For those of you who haven’t done so already, I suggest you read the feature I wrote about The Ruby Kid for Rhythm Circus last month. Upon reading, you may remark on how effusive I was in praise of the 23-year-old poet and emcee. I perhaps even slightly belaboured the point about him being a champion of the independent UK Hip Hop scene but I think I can forgive my own enthusiasm after unearthing a musical gem buried deep beneath the fallow topsoil of the urban soundscape. Nonetheless, as a counterpoint to my “bigging-up” of the man’s credentials in the previous article, I was rather hoping that his new release would have me dunk my journalist’s pen in vitriol and inscribe some harsher points of criticism. Alas, even in my most mean-spirited frame of mind, the compliments I find myself giving to his new EP entitled ‘Maps’ far outweigh any journalistic necessity to find fault. In fact, I find it even slightly embarrassing to have so much to be positive about his latest offering, the newest chapter in the narrative of this compelling fellow.
‘Maps’ is undoubtedly The Ruby Kid’s most complete release to date. For a start, it has a more orthodox Hip Hop vibe (certain to please the purists), a more settled feel and overall, a greater finesse than his previous outing, ‘Winter in the City’. The EP, produced by London-based Dan Angell, has a more diverse collection of beats, all soulfully crafted and tightened up with punchier enunciation, hooks and cadences. Long-time collaborators “Black Jacobins” are largely absent from ‘Maps’ but make a cameo appearance when providing the musical accompaniment to The Ruby Kid’s spoken-word poem “The Imagined Village” in a live session performed for BBC Sheffield. Otherwise the EP has a more conventional twofold producer/emcee dynamic but also a gentle mottling of indie/folk colour from Manchester-based Al Baker for good measure.
In essence, the EP is a reflection of an artist’s thoughts and ruminations in the midst of a gritty East London milieu. The change of location is coupled with a change of sound which is more emotionally-tangible and has fewer obscure references being thrust at the listener. His relentless verbosity is also toned down a little so as to convey a starker, stripped-down message to his listeners. Indeed, the EP affirms this change of approach from the off with the opening track, “All Hand on Deck” casting aside the tinkling piano keys and jazz-inflected horns reminiscent of “Winter of the City” and pulsed instead with an edgier, staccato electro rhythm. The following track “Ends/Means” has a similarly edgy low-pitched palm-muted guitar riff that crescendos into an energetic anthemic hook, impelling you to chant along. In the midst of this eruption of sound, The Ruby Kid distils his righteous anger predicated on notions of class struggle without sounding heavy-handed or preachy but evokes the sort of biting criticism becoming ever-more resonant in an era where class struggles are again coming to the fore. In a similar thematic vein, the wonderfully titled “Growing Up Is A Euphemism For Knowing Your Place” conveys The Ruby Kid’s antipathy towards the banalities of nine-to-five wage slavery. The song features radical folk-singer extraordinaire Al Baker who imparts the wonderful turn of phrase; “I’ll work if I have to, but never with an ethic.”
On a less political, more observational tip, “Hoxton Bounce” makes explicit reference to the paradoxes and absurdities of the bohemian subculture prevalent in London’s East End (Hoxton and surrounding areas being a catchall for London’s desultory hipster scene.) The song is to some extent an anti-scene rant without resorting to low-brow attacks or sophomoric analogies, instead critiquing the “same buzz conglomerate”, the scene’s insipid ephemerality and its abject lack of original concepts (“Within the beating heart of every new idea you’re drawn to/ Is the remnants of a better one someone else had before you”).
The less politically-inclined, more literary side to The Ruby Kid shines through also in “The Key” which features some mesmerizing poetic descriptions of a nightclub “silhouetted by lasers”, containing the “spectral smoke of cigarettes”. Richer descriptions and soundscapes match his more introspective numbers suitably, particularly the multi-layered, down-tempo “Morning After Snow”, a song tinged with a sadness stirred by wistful guitar sample and The Ruby Kid’s own meditations on life’s inevitable comedowns, both emotional and drug-induced.
Could I do something as flippant as ascribe a label to this brand of Hip Hop? Well, it could be argued this is music betwixt and between Hip Hop and poetry but seen as The Ruby Kid has the credibility of both an emcee and poet it would be unwise of me to assign him such an indecisive position somewhere in the middle. Upon perusal and re-perusal of his superb EP, The Ruby Kid above all proves he has an uncanny ability to move, to captivate and to convey a palpable poetic honesty to his listener. ‘Maps’ EP is a magnificent blueprint for a promising future and henceforth the World is indeed his Oyster card.
Maps EP can be listened to and purchased from The Ruby Kid’s Bandcamp store @ www.therubykid.bandcamp.com