Enlish – Cold Lazarus (Album Review) (www.rhythmcircus.co.uk)

After six years spent paying dues on his local hip-hop circuit as both an MC and DJ with the Mad Love and Blaze One crews, Falmouth-raised Enlish (AKA Big Dave) relocated to Brighton and spent five years establishing himself as a mainstay on the local hip-hop scene with a string of mixtape releases and an EP to his name, in addition to becoming a permanent fixture at Rising Styles’ Brighton Hip-Hop Festival. All the while he garnered numerous impressive features including a guest spot on BBC 1Xtra with F.U. Music affiliate Stig of the Dump, and has shared bills with such hip-hop luminaries as Klashnekoff, Jehst, Rodney P, Raekwon, and Phi Life Cypher but to name a few. Released under the auspices of independent label F.U. Music, Cold Lazarus is Enlish’s long-awaited flagship solo album project and the fruit of four years unrequited passion for hip-hop combined with assiduous musical endeavour, but also a wealth of setbacks; however, despite the trials and tribulations of a struggling independent artist, the end product is nothing short of a seamless hip-hop masterpiece.

An undisputed OG, and perhaps one of the most under-appreciated of UK hip-hop legends, Enlish is the MC’s MC: with his exquisite flows, deft freestyle ability and flamboyant image propelling him to the status of a cult hero in the UK scene, Enlish has long exalted traditional mid-90’s era hip-hop out of America’s regional confines, taken it to the British South Coast and injected it with his own colourful persona and the worldly-wise perspectives a self-confessed “brown-skinned, Cornish-Asian rapper”. A de facto Sean Price of the underground UK hip-hop scene, Enlish displays a similar internal rhyme aggressiveness, alliteration and densely-packed polysyllabic rhyming style of his quasi-role model, and like Sean, he’s clearly an intelligent guy; however, a real masterstroke of his is how he forgoes any marble-mouthed, esoteric references (which I’m sure he is quite capable of producing) and instead adheres to a formula of spitting straight-up flows and packing them out with hard-hitting punchlines. Moreover, Enlish wisely repudiates the common tropes of self-proclaimed socially conscious rappers who display a complete inability to spin a compelling narrative, by crafting eloquent verses about deeply-ingrained personal issues. Indeed, there’s a complex interplay of themes and admissions in the album: he presents himself as a larger-than-life and extremely outgoing character on the one side, but on the other he explores the dichotomy of the same man riddled with insecurity, everyman melancholy and self-destructive bouts of depression.

For all his introspection however, Enlish never sacrifices humour or swagger, and the beats of Cold Lazarus are seriously banging. Produced, mixed, mastered and arranged entirely by Ido, it’s a sonically rich affair with a myriad of musical ornamentation and a cohesive collection of sounds wherein each individual element serves its purpose to the fullest. Chiseled with a heady blend of bass-heavy tracks structured by cymbals, reverb-heavy squelching synths with meaty guitar stabs as well as simpler looped instrumentals with wistful flute melodies, Cold Lazarus has some of the most accomplished and varied production I’ve heard from any UK hip-hop release this year.In addition to the album’s high-end production values and its flamboyant aesthetic, Enlish lays bare his self-depricating persona and is entirely honest about the adversity he has had to face in life — especially concering the tragic death of his mother —and his consequent succumbing to a desultory, hedonistic lifestyle of booze and women. Heavily suffused with nihilistic undertones whilst also conveying some affable and often deadpan comedic sensibilites, Cold Lazarus is the soundtrack to the real-life tale of a tortured soul, emphasized by the inclusion of three very introspective and heartfelt numbers: ‘I Feel Good’, ‘Only Human’ and ‘Karaoke’. In my opinion, it’s in these tracks that some of his best lyricism comes out: “Heavy flowing with as much serotonin left as Leonard Cohen'”. Additionally, he also provides some stark and earnest messages to those similarly vulnerable to the same temptations: “Choose to reject what your fate brings, and you’ll be frozen in a moment from which you’re never escaping.”

Perhaps to provide some much-needed levity to the introspection, the comedy track ‘Dickhead’ features a humorous light-hearted exchange between Enlish and close friend Hines who nags and reprimands him for wasting his days and for not getting out there and doing shows. Recurring themes in this as well as some other tracks on the album include flagrant substance-abuse, plain idleness and degenerate boozing, and are dealt with with an intriguing mixture of blithe humour and genuine earnestness. The album’s stand out track — which is also the album’s featured single— is the thickly synth and bass laden ‘Arrogance is Bliss’ which is a serious head-banger; it’s also thoroughly apolitical and loaded with tongue-in-cheek gangsterisms and near-the-knucle humour. Complete with a Sean Price fresh out the Carhartt-era and a potty-mouthed Stig of the Dump, the track lends most itself to bursts of laugh-out-loud punchlines: It ain’t line dancing when I say I throw the hoe down. Another stand-out is the ‘Imagineers Cypher’ which is a rowdy collaborative effort featuring fellow F.U. Music cohort Dr Syntax (himself a UK hip-hop veteran), Hines and Clev Cleverley with a classic rock emphasis and some seriously dope scratches from DJ Manipulate.

Overall, there’s really very little I can fault in Cold Lazarus, and I certainly haven’t got a bad word to say about Enlish; indeed, for all his hip-hop posturing and well-deserved hubris, he still comes off as a genuinely nice guy, and his affable charm and charisma make him a true breath of fresh air in a country pervaded by the scourge pretentious grime MCs-turned-popstars. No doubt there will be incessant buzz and clamouring when his album is released on 7th June because this is literally, HUGE!

To whet your appetite a little, download the single ‘Arrogance is Bliss’ featuring Sean Price, Stig of the Dump and DJ Manipulate:

http://enlish.bandcamp.com

Also, check out Enlish’s popular blog:

http://rapaintreallyreal.blogspot.com

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