Ramson Badbonez’ gully brand of estate lyricism has long been ingrained into the UK’s Hip Hop scene, a Task Force affiliate who’s cast a steady figure bubbling under the surface with his raw, rugged brand of musical journalism. First discovered in Highbury by Task Force, his name quickly became a household one purely on the strength of features alone, with his mixtape alongside Harry Love and his debut album Bad Influence back in 2012 (review here) cementing his name as one of the UK Undergrounds most original and on point rhymers.
Taking on the perhaps over-trodden topic of the grimier side of inner London life, he brings an original slant and a new lease of life to a tired subject, merging gritty street reality with poetic imagery and a keen observational mind. To be real, I thought Bad Influence was a solid album but I didn’t feel it lived up to his potential, it felt like this Task Force prodigy who’d been tearing mics since the age of 14 had more to give, so it was with a feeling of satisfaction that I sat back amidst the outro of his brand new album, A Year in the Life of Oscar the Slouch. Lyrically, delivery wise and, most obviously, conceptually, he’s followed in the foot steps of the rest of the High Focus roster and truly delivered for his first release on the label.
Fourteen tracks deep, it depicts, as the title would suggest, all twelve months in the life of Badbonez’ rap character, the stairwell dwelling, night time wandering, city watching Oscar the Slouch, with an intro and outro thrown in to round off the story. Over a prime selection of beats from North London based Abnoxshuz Entertainment producer Charlie Mac, he takes you from the depressing greys of winter through the eventful, and often dangerous, heydays of summer and all the way back again, providing an honest insight into the highs and lows of London’s underworld, its traps, methods of escape and bittersweet excess.
A generally melancholic tale, moments of action and excitement pierce the slow boredom of jamming in parks waiting for shots as Oscar watches the city’s outer workings hustle around him. It’s all to easy to loosely put a concept such as this track per month layout on an album as somewhat of a gimmick, but Ramson sticks to it perfectly, summing up the atmosphere of each month and the city as a whole and rarely drifting off point, embedding the concept firmly into every bar. That’s something no doubt aided by Charlie Mac’s production, the up beat cuts and vocal hook of In Da Blitz Time (January) summing up an enthusiastic start to the year where the positivity of a fresh start and still fond memories of NYE’s mischief outweigh winter’s finger numbing cold, while the haunting intro vocal and wistful guitars/wind of Desperation (November) show the other side of Winter, where post summer blues and the promise of the long nights ahead hit hard. In the midst of this, the more relaxed guitars of True Lies, Blue Skies (June) amidst Mancini’s smooth chorus sum up the street festivals and ice cold evening beers of early summer while the up beat horns of Diz Iz Normal (August) take you through the crime ridden, poor mans high life of mid summer.
Enhancing Oscar’s vision come a fine selection of features, both from the High Focus camp, his Bristol based Abnoxshuz affiliates and elsewhere. Gadget brings a touch of soul to the hook of Whateva Da Weatha (February) before London vet Mystro slots perfectly into Badbonez’ street tales with a hard verse depicting one of the city’s lost sons. Jam Baxter brings ridiculous, constantly cycling, flows to Scruffy, Bummy, Hungry, breaking up the album’s more straight up descriptions for his brand of twisted metaphor, before Joker Starr comes with what stands out as one of my favourite of his verses. Adding to the heavy presence of singers featured, Balance kicks off April Fools Day (August) before M.A.B later joins in, while the aforementioned Mancini excels in terms of the album’s singers two tracks later. Jinxsta JX intertwines with Badbonez on Diz Iz Normal, before Genesis Elijah’s gutteral tones find an ideal home on the heavy cymbals of Chains & Whips. Lastly, Rag N Bone Man laces the hook of O.T.S (October) amidst jazzy pianos and a heavy bass guitar, introducing Fliptrix’s tales of deep metropolis dwelling, and later on Rod.D’s more aggressive reaction to the grey environment.
A cold reflection of estate life in our capital, Oscar’s tale takes us through his eventful year with an on point knack for observation, casually dropping gems of knowledge that sum up areas, months and people. By far Ramson Badbonez’ most well thought out, lyrically insightful and honest offering, it’s grim tale is never the less incredibly listenable, playing like a story, or rather a piece of journalism, of the under represented. Although fairly feature heavy, his contemporaries never waver from his story, instead taking on his descriptive focus for an album that’s intensely conceptual, where Badbonez’ voice stands strong as it’s main narrator. Charlie Mac’s sample skits (embedded into the beginning and end of tracks) and cuts help keep it all moving along, while his beats provide an ideal canvas for the tale. Showcasing Hip Hop’s capabilities to truly sum up a time, location and atmosphere, the descriptive journalism forms an engaging world where there’s always something new to discover. A hip hop album of the highest quality, Badbonez’ Task Force roots shine through, taking on their mantle with a similair, although bended, style of gutter life and adding it to the incredible production values of the High Focus camp for a take on road rap that avoids all of it’s cliches and instead reads like an novel.
Grab the album now direct from High Focus Records.