||Catch Me If You Can
Label: OG Enterprises / Rags to Richez
Released: June 15, 2009
Reviewer: DJ Z
Rating: 7 / 10
|Catch Me If You Can is a debut album that perfectly encapsulates how hip hop has become the world's local music. With vocal accents, lyrical references, swagger and varied production styles that will take a minute for the non-Brit to get their head around, much of this likable and well-intentioned set still deserves wider attention.
Bashy surfaced along with the second wave of UK emcees breaking through via the garage/grime scene in the slipstream of Dizzee Rascal, Kano and Wiley rather than from the straight-up - and arguably more lyrical - traditional UK hip hop scene (which has been thriving in its own separate lane since the '80s). With a handful of well-received mixtapes and singles, his breakthrough moment was the thought-provoking, inspirational track Black Boys (featured here as the album's closing moment). Avoiding typical party, braggadocio, girls and gangs topics, the Ooh Child-sampling cut and video caught attention beyond the scene with its passionate portrayal of positive mainstream black role models - from rappers to newsreaders, comedians to singers. It was followed by the relentless grime of Kidulthood to Adulthood (also included here), the excellent lead single from the successful independent movie Adulthood, cementing Bashy's place at the top of the "next to blow" list.
The album opens with a melodic slice of hip hop, Before Before - a historic run-through of the West Londoner's life with plenty of poignant, distinctly British reference points, from Channel U to Oyster cards, with the emcee riding a soulful beat that would suit Ghostface, or his sometime producer and Bashy's fellow UK stalwart, Lewis Parker. But just as you begin getting comfortable the listener is whacked around the head with the harsher, up-tempo grime sounds and simplified lyrical flow of recent "get money" single Who Wants to be a Millionaire? And as soon as you're acclimatising to that style, Bashy turns to the softer '80s electronics-and-autotune sound of She's a Gangsta, a driving, up-beat track that feels like the set's biggest potential commercial moment, a cross between Kanye's recent outpourings and beats from Akon's chart-topping club hits.
Another strong track is the introspective, emotive Change, where Bashy outlines things he wished he'd said and done in the past. Utilising a sympathetic backing with haunting piano and soul-drenched female vocals, it could be British hip hop's answer to Jay-Z's Song Cry. Other personal tracks include the rousing What About Me? and the R&B-tinged Living My Dream (featuring Sirach Charles), where we hear how the emcee has been ripped off by managers and had hopes raised by false label promises, but found his own way via pirate radio, underground media and community support. On the impassioned Life we get poignant commentary on the life of this inner-city youth trying to "improve his existence and not be a statistic." And, further expanding the breadth of reference material woven into the mix, Copycut takes influences from French dance music stars like Justice with its pounding groove and uplifting kiddie vocal hook to great effect.
It's not all good though. Comedy lines such as "you think I'm dark now wait 'til I got a tan!" on the holiday destination-themed Travel the World (with love-them-or-hate-them platinum sellers N-Dubz) don't take away from the fact the track feels like a list of cities and countries rather than a song with any substance. And despite his positive intentions and heartfelt delivery, many listeners will criticise his simple, straightforward flow on a number of tracks (a common complaint about emcees from this scene, and one which certainly holds true when you place them up against UK wordsmiths such as Sway, Lowkey, Blak Twang, Roots Manuva or Klashnekoff). And when Bashy slows the pace - the lyrics on Sorry and Day Before I Die are almost spoken statements rather than rapped rhymes in some places - he actually diminishes the impact of the songs' hard-hitting content and strong production.
Despite these slight let-downs, this is a distinctly British album that makes no qualms about trying to compete with hip hop coming out of the US, either in sound or subject matter. Catch Me If You Can is the personal journal of a fresh talent worth seeking out if you have an open mind, like your hip hop without international or sonic constraints, and - a rarity this day and age - enjoy something with a positive underlying sentiment.