Grim Sickers just dropped his latest mixtape “Icons Only” and as we’ve come to expect of from the British-Jamaican-Indian MC it’s truly a grime tape, featuring production from heavyweights of the scene like Bowzer Boss, Audio Slugs and Filthy Gears as well as new producers like MaxehBeats. Sickers has been grinding in the game from time now, making significant strides since Lord of the Mics V in 2013, which was the first time he really entered the public eye. Since then his flow and his bars have both developed and improved, but other than a few features and his massive single ‘Kane’, he hasn’t made huge impact in the game. ‘Icons Only’ represents further progress for the MC, calling in a minimum of features – from the ever-impressive Manga Saint Hilare to Example – he takes centre stage on this project. Over a variety of grime beats he’s at his best when he’s going full throttle on a track, much like he did on Kane, but ultimately fails to really impress due to his fairly basic bar work and largely generic content.
The real positives of the project, and there are indeed several, stem from when the Swindon MC sticks to what he knows best, which as he expressed in his Fire In The Booth last year is spitting on Grime. He therefore gets off to a strong start, opening the project with ‘Merking’, an old school grime track filled with those characteristically grimey synths produced by el dubz. Whilst the flow and the energy are there, the lyrical content is nothing to get excited about it, with no standout bars to speak of. When the Bowzer Boss instrumental comes in for the next track “Boss Mode” therefore – its heavy 808s juxtaposed with the kind of silky keys melody you’d associate with a murder mystery – you’re crying out for Sickers to kick it up a gear. The hook is suitably menacing but bars like “moved up weight like Bellew/ Sickers ran past ten of you/ never switch sides like Benayoun” are about as complex as it gets lyrically. The similes are all well and good, and the track is undoubtedly hard, but already you’re wondering where the album’s gonna go from here and if Sickers will have enough content to see it through.
Here is often where features play a part rap projects, breaking up the flow and adding some new content and a different dimension to proceedings. In this respect too Sickers excels, first as he calls in Manga Saint Hilare and Shizz McNaughty for ‘DOJO’. Once again the Audio Slugs beat sets the tone, a stripped back riddim that only complements the drums with synths once every 4 bars. This puts the MCs front and centre and every one of them duly kills it, when it wraps up in under two minutes you’re definitely left wanting more. Another of the tape’s best moments comes when Example and Bonkaz provide the assist on ‘So Real’, a Zenn Habits produced gyal tune. With the pace slowed down each MC gets in their feelings, modifying their cadence to create the wavey summer banger vibe. Here Sickers’ bars appear more thought out too, the baller similes (“Last year was a mazza/ Euro ’96 over your head like Gazza”) sprinkled among deeper lines like “legs aching getting dragged round’a harrods/ motorway trips blazing Motown ballads/ Confidence shattered from the thoughts that are gathered”. It’s a track that shows that the MC can successfully switch up the vibe when the time’s right.
Unfortunately though, these moments are rather few and far between; much of the mixtape features tracks where the beat doesn’t seem to quite work with the way Sickers wants to flow, and the bars therefore sound forced. On ‘Perfect Timing’ this highlights lacklustre bars like “get them racks like trainer”, making them sound worse than they are. Whilst there are no terrible songs on the project, it’s filler tracks like these that stop it from being the kind of tape you’ll listen to back to back more than once. Furthermore, the content doesn’t vary much from track to track, making it easy to pick and choose the best one or two to listen to.
That being said, if you make it through to the final track you’re rewarded with a truly reflective piece focussing on relationship breakdown and the emotions that come with that. It’s not earth shattering in its artistry and doesn’t carry the emotional weight of a track like Dave’s Lesley (granted not a particularly fair comparison given the outstanding quality of that album), but bars like “liquor weakened from the ice, the pressure’s settled in my eyes/ I don’t wanna do this twice” at least give a different perspective and insight into the mind of the MC.
Overall then, Sickers has produced a mixtape with a couple of good tracks and some undeniable moments of quality, supported throughout by some fantastic production. However, despite some entertaining and well-chosen features, the content often feels one dimensional, with the bars bordering between basic and cliché at points. Ultimately it’s a project that’s worth a listen, but won’t be one of the classics.
Standouts: DOJO, So real