You don’t need me to tell you that 2012 has been a great year for hip-hop. It’s almost scary how many solid releases we’ve seen in the past 12 months, whether it’s a major-label debut album or a completely free mixtape. And where have almost all of these great releases come from? Got it yet? Course you have. They’ve all come from the U.S.
UK hip-hop simply cannot compete with the States at the moment. Maybe we’re witnessing a period of immense productivity from immensely talented American MCs, maybe it’s because most UK hip-hop is veering more towards mainstream pop sounds, maybe it’s a combination of the two. One man who’s single-handedly keeping things alive for the U.K., however, is DELS, an MC from Ipswich who first burst onto the scene last year with his debut album GOB. Apart from an appearance on Bonobo’s Black Sands Remixed album earlier this year, Kieran Dickins has laid pretty low since then, but bounces back strong with this new EP, Black Salad.
Dickins’ musical ideas stretch way further than purely hip-hop, and this is what sets him apart from a lot of mundane UK rappers. As soon as you hit play on the first track “Black Salad” you hear detuned synths and glitchy effects that sound more like something from Grimes’ back catalogue, followed by trippy vocal manipulations and a severely vocoded outro.
This is hip-hop for the digital age; where experimental beats are fused with equally obscure and abstract lyrics. “I’m a walking contradiction like a corpse doin’ the moonwalk”, he spits on “Bird Milk”, quickly followed up with lines like: “Suffer suffocation burst bubblegum bubble/as it wraps around my face, dear Lord I’m in trouble.” It’s clear that Kieran is trying to create some vivid imagery on this EP, and if you can wriggle through the slightly challenging beats and immerse yourself in the music, the rewards are reaped by the bucketload.
“Not Today” is the most interesting song on this EP; DELS stoned, slurred flow over a bi-polar, bass-heavy beat produced by Raisa Khan (one member of Micachu and The Shapes) is a seldom-heard juxtaposition that creates a sense of infectious unease. It should be mentioned that every beat on this EP is brilliantly creative; even the musical interlude track that follows, “Sell By Date”, is hard to skip, with its wonky guitar samples, industrial synths and pounding drum patterns.
The closing track “You Live In My Head” is an introverted masterpiece. Featuring not much more than a drum pattern, several piano loops and DELS’ sparse flow, it’s a melancholy song focusing on the all-consuming feeling of love, with DELS spitting two short verses and then repeating the phrase “you live in my head” throughout the second half of the song. If you listen closely on headphones, you can even hear extremely quiet voices panning between left and right, as if DELS is living inside your own head.
If anything were to be criticised, it would be that the EP finishes just as soon as you start to get a feel for the music. With only three proper tracks, there isn’t quite enough here to keep fans satisfied until the next album drops, but each track is so good that it’s hard to be angry with Dickins. Black Salad is a short but sweet triumph; a unique, emotive EP that reinforces his 21st century, thought-provoking brand of glitch-hop that he began to blueprint on his debut album. Maybe UK hip-hop isn’t in too bad shape after all.