As hip-hop soldiers on through its fifth decade, its impact on global and pop culture has never been stronger. Rap is a trend-setting catalyst, one firmly entrenched within various genres and realms that seemed impenetrable just 10 years earlier. The relationship is symbiotic: Other genres have influenced hip-hop as well. Case in point? The United Kingdom.
England houses a storied hip-hop history in its own right, though recent years have seen an influx and transatlantic collaboration. Kanye West, Danny Brown and countless others travel across the pond to taste the Kingdom’s ecstatic and experimental production. The cultural sampling is a mutual love affair. United States rap reps inject British elements into their sonic palette, and England has returned the favor. Road rap, a British hip-hop style that strays away from local instincts to incorporate American style and slang, has blown up in London over the last few years. While Brits are concerned with what this means for classic UK genres like grime, road rap arrives at a perfect time for London artists to try and tap the American rap audience. That’s the goal of The Black Market (or so it seems), the new album by London duo PBGR. With varied production, pop culture allusions and a polished sound, The Black Market has everything needed to pop off stateside, save for one little thing: personality.
That’s not necessarily a deal breaker. The Black Market is a fun tape and PBGR (Play Broke Get Rich) acquit themselves quite nicely. It falls in line right with where American hip-hop is today. There’s a more lyrical quality to the rapping here as opposed to the jagged, sharp punches that typified the rapping of grime. That pairs well with the production, which is just as radical in breaks of tradition. Whereas grime productions are busy maximalist affairs, the production on The Black Market is light and malleable. There’s a lot of vacuous space to flow through here, and a lot of variety too. There are twinkling, industrial beats on “March” and “Gas Pedal,” jazzy boom bap on “(soul)itude” and ambient cloud rap on “SMW.” The entire project offers flow and cohesion that many mainstream rap albums lack.
As rappers, Swarve Sutton and BabaCrunch (the duo of PBGR) are aggressive and dexterous. They make the most of the negative space in the production, finding pockets and doubling down on them before blowing them up and going in a different direction. The way the two share the mic displays real chemistry, but there’s nothing particularly engaging about them. While The Black Market doesn’t traffic in the same type of gangland fairytale posturing that a lot of road rap does, it still uses the same aspirational clichés that plague modern rap records. It’s not clear if it’s easier to understand the two artists because they have dialed down the British accent or because they’re using stock rap phrases (“I’ve been chilling with them bitches, I ain’t worried about nothing” from “SMW” or “middle finger in the air, I don’t give a fuck”on “Stockwood”).
Littered with American pop culture references (Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Snoop & Dre), The Black Market is clearly aimed at a stateside breakthrough; however, PBGR would have found more success by exchanging foreign capitulations for a heavier dose of authentic identity. Nowadays, many of our rap stars are weirdos who offer a whole world for the listener to explore. It is hard to see a need for someone reiterating a world we already know.
3 out of 5
You can download The Black Market here.