In the swagger of Khabib, the first track on Central Cee’s debut album, lurks the line “I’m at Week 18 on the charts.” The track – named after an undefeated Russian MMA fighter – was a rare moment of understatement. The London rapper has been in the top 10 for 18 weeks alone: in fact, he’s been on the singles chart since his first crossover hit “Loading” came out in late 2020 Stayed on for 97 weeks.
In fact, Central Cee has a very good 2021 no matter what: his debut mixtape, Wild West’s gold album; six hit singles – if you count his D-Block Europe collaboration and his On Ed Sheeran’s remix of Bad Habits, there are eight – and three nominations from the UK. A cameo appearance in FKA Twigs’ “Measure of a Man” even landed him on the soundtrack of the latest Kingsman film, which is rarely known for intensifying British traps.
This isn’t to downplay the years 23-year-old Oakley Ceasar-Su developed his craft — he started smearing his voice in Auto-Tune before switching to a more raspy sound — a hint of the practicality he’s made in this regard. success very quickly. You can hear it in 23’s lyrics, full of memories of his life before his fame that still seem to have happened “recently.” One minute he was stalked into a crowd at a wireless music festival – apparently for the offense of “letting the party go”, which is unlikely to be the exact wording on the arrest sheet – the next he was on Saturday and Sunday All staged the main stage.
If you’re wondering how he did it, 23 offers some interesting clues. As a rapper, he has the fluidity to flip a sentence—”I don’t have the money/I’m not embarrassed/I hit the road in a Toyota Yaris”—but the lyrics tend to stick to the mundane theme: rough upbringing (age 14). kicked out of the house, left school without GCSE); pre-rap crime life; swagger tempered by intense remorse, as on Ungrateful, which expresses “turning the page…counterclockwise must burn the wise men to death” ” desire; success and the discord and disadvantages that follow. He briefly took a break from the role in retail therapy, where he expressed a desire to connect with his “feminine energy” through shopping, and was overwhelmed by his mother’s “materialistic” attitude, but mostly to do well Anticipate things, not create surprises.
But 23 also shows how good Central Cee is at making records, not just writing. A number of very powerful musical ideas are on display, some of which are the work of producer Young Chencs, whose sound signature runs throughout the album: You’re never far from the female voice declaring who made the beats. Retail Therapy’s Hook Collection takes a saxophone from Hank Crawford’s 1973 jazz album Wildflower and gives it the kind of acceleration that’s common in early ’90s hardcore binges: the result is nagging and unique. Just before it ended, Air BnB support suddenly shifted from electric piano boost on ’70s soft rock tracks to ’70s soft rock sampled as Central Cee continued to rap. The short Terminal 5 is based on another excellent and unexpected sample of jazz, this time by a battered trumpet band. Elsewhere, the idea of borrowing “Obsessed With You” from PinkPantheress’ “Just for Me” was inspired, and not just because the single was released as a single in September – getting a lot of coverage on TikTok, and PinkPantheress It’s an explosive star. The original’s sound — essentially an early ’00s pop garage cut turned helium sound, oddly disturbing — is a perfect contrast to the rapper’s voice.
The best track was probably the most unexpected: Eurovision Song Contest, where Central Cee gathered a host of guests, his shepherd jungle compatriot A2anti, and two rappers from France, Italy and Spain. In a way, it’s a risk to cede most of the repertoire to names that are largely unknown in the UK and perform in their native language (though it might give him a head start in their respective competitive domestic rap scenes). But it did pay off: Rondodasosa from Milan, who was a guest single on Central Cee last year, is a particularly striking find, an angry, rude voice that mixes Italian and English. While rooted in tradition, the effect is slightly different: just like the rest of the 23.