BackRoad Gee: Reporting Live (From the Back of the Roads) album review

BackRoad Gee recently joked about making his own dictionary. His explosive rapeseed is packed with so many recycled words that they have taken on new meaning. Often onomatopoeic, they act as more than sound effects or ad libs – they are critical components of the verses. Tag “brukutu.” Add a “u” between the first two consonants and it is a popular West African sorghum-based beer. In BRG’s hands, however, it could mimic the deadly spray from a weapon, as in his career-defining verse about Pa Salieu’s “My Family.” Or, as he makes clear at the beginning of his latest mixtape Live reporting (from the back of the roads), it can be self-referential.

The British-Congolese artist’s unashamed willingness to twist, bend and break the language he deems appropriate has made him one of the most exciting voices in Britain. Though only a few years into his career, his roaring tone and trademark phrases – which include heavy use of “woof”, “vroom”, “skrrt” and the wonderfully inexplicable “urrdum” and “mukta” (there is a Sanskrit explanation for this , but for BRG it is a “personal interpretation”) – allow him to fluently inhabit the various shades of black British music. His latest mixtape – and best work to date – sounds more like an album in both its versatility and context. It is an ambitious effort that feels more revealing than exhaustive, proving that there is fertile ground to be found in the interplay between the filthy energy of the dirt, the eerie textures from the UK drill and the velvety melodies from Afropop.

BRG’s first two projects — 2019’s Mukta White Reason and the 2020s Mukta vs Mukta– had brief moments of magic, such as the latter’s breakout hit “Party Popper”, but for the most part, they fell victim to inflated tracklists and uninspired production. On Live reporting, a markedly more refined BRG commands each beat. The first half is a journey at a good pace through the annals of street music, with nods to the UK drill, halter and the liminal gap between the two. Lyrically, he pays contingent to the ends and the shady back roads that gave him his name, alternating between aggression, sincerity, and moralism. “Look at the things we’ve done / Enough is enough,” he declares relentlessly at the top of the mixtape. From the nihilistic terror of “Fxct It” to the tragic realizations of “Dark Place”, BRG’s struggle to change his life is endearing in its flawed humanity, making his gains even more encouraging. When he reaches “Fear Nuttin”, a solemn bridge between the two parts of the mixtape, he has replaced physical protection with a spiritual form: “Fear not nuttin, only Allah / Previously we had weapons in the car.”

The second half – featuring Stylo G, Stefflon Don, NSG and Olamide – leans into the sexier and more romantic corners of dancehall and Afropop. There are a few exceptions, including the unique “Crime Partners”, with the genre blender Pa Salieu. While its rhythmic trot and tender saxophone can make you moan, the sharp lyrics say (“My nigga was shot in the head and went off”), say something else and provide a clear-cut counterpoint to “baby, oh” love songs and feel -good vibes that dominate Afropop. The Afroswing pioneers, NSG, are formidable partners on the rough grooves of the “Ancestors”. On “Nyege Lewa”, BRG and Ms. Banks the pan-African hall party classic “Premier Gaou” to a sleek sex song. And by the time Olamide’s voice chimes in on the effervescent “See Level”, it feels as if BRG is on a well-deserved round of victory, while crumbling in pidgin with the energy of a wealthy, undisturbed African uncle.

Although BRG has cited Burna Boy, DMX, 50 Cent and Koffi Olomide as influences, he is probably most in debt to artists closer to home. His idiosyncratic vocals and inventive puns are reminiscent of ugly big D Double E (which he jumped on a remix with last year), while his charisma, versatility and ability to span the needs of the street and club are reminiscent of J House. The latter’s crossover success was widely hailed as the biggest manifestation of the bridge between street raps, dancehall and afropop, giving the mixed sound mainstream legitimacy. In the House’s stretches of inactivity (partly due to imprisonment), the non-committal style returned to margins while the UK drill came to the fore. BRG’s latest project was able to confirm the dominance of hybridity and make room for all of Britain’s amazing black music to shine at once.

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