Born and raised in leafy Bromsgrove, a small town in north east Worcestershire, self-proclaimed geek-rapper Dan Bull is pretty much your typical nerdy middle-class white kid.
Rising from underground obscurity to become something of an internet sensation,Dan has steadily built a sturdy online reputation on his topical raps and tirades at everything from corrupt political systems to disingenuous popstars. The 25-year-old proves that he can be both fun and witty, but also serious-minded when waxing poetic about the latest video game trailers, the BRIT Awards, or even draconian anti-piracy laws like SOPA.
His album releases are perhaps overlooked in favour of his hugely popular Youtube channel, but a few songs on Face will be familiar to you if you’re a subscriber. The opening track America, which was released as a video couple of years back, is a prime example of Dan’s cognizant, analytical style. With his swingeing critique of the American healthcare system, Dan delivers an impassioned plea for a reform of what is the only privatised system in the industrial world: Nothing should be held higher than citizens / Putting wealth over health, I am sick of it!
Rather than bashing authority, Dan provides a more sanguine voice for the sceptical and disenfranchised. Though his tone is often stark, he projects these criticisms mindfully rather than simply rattling off a bunch of fervid, frustrated torrents at authority figures. His perspective is broad, open-minded and more objective than the image-obsessed activist-type, for whom Dan himself will often lay bare his disdain. In Guilty for example, he is bold enough to censure us, the lumpen public, who are often uninterested in reform, rather than following an obvious mode of laying in to those in power: The blame doesn’t just lay with governments and militants / The population’s got the plague of indifference.
The free-flowing, hook-heavy emphasis of Dan’s songs allows him the free rein to lace his intelligent diatribes on the modulating influences of big-business, politicians and the media within a compelling musical package. The album’s sound is equally as explorative as his themes; it’s jam-packed full of synthy, funk-filled bass and a genuine musical prowess that eludes many hip-hop acts and gives heavy nods to a plethora of acoustic rock and pop influences. Rhythmically diverse, with faster-paced numbers such as The Staircase contrasting well to chugging mid-tempo syncopations in Medicine Ball, the album is successful in its musical variation as much as in its wrangling of anthemic rock sensibilities within an essentially hip-hop framework.
Dan isn’t just some nerd who happens to make words rhyme either – his rap credentials are in fact equally as strong as his intellectual rigour. Riding the beat with complex polysyllabics and precise cadences, Dan delivers a mother lode of rhyme contortions over a confection of beautifully crisp compositional beats. His range of vocal stylings will often leave you bedazzled: he not only raps well, but also sings and harmonises pitch-perfectly over velvety, self-composed harmonies and gauzy acoustic melodies. All the while he maintains his slightly nerdy persona, but never exaggeratedly so at the risk of caricaturing himself. In Proud, a track produced by underground Manchester beatmaker Pro P, he unashamedly declares himself “a middle-class kid from the Midlands” with fast-flowing double-time precision and with a lucid and uplifting sense of honesty. His lyrics are emotionally-direct and rarely descend into non-sequiturs or convolution for the sake of sounding clever.
Aside from a few deviations such as his beautiful tribute to John Lennon, Face is a deeply individual affair and features several moving personal accounts, the most poignant of which being Portrait of the Autist. Over swooning whirs and slow drums, Dan speaks plainly of his real-life experiences with Asperges syndrome, describing his feelings of isolation and his crippling inability to integrate in informal social settings: An overloaded brain is no way to be social and say hello to mates, is it? / It’s made me feel alone for ages, because I know there’s no hope to change it. The track focuses on the real, tortuous nature of the condition rather than the Rainman-perpetuated fallacy that Autism is some kind of superpower, when in fact it can be an incredibly debilitating disorder. That said, he does allude to some of its positive aspects, such as Autism’s role in helping him become a poet.
Overall, ‘Face’ is a high-quality rap collection, but as a full-length concept album it’s still a little undeveloped. He packs great creative punch throughout and makes this an effervescent piece a bedroom studio miscellany, but I still feel it’s in the nascent stages of being a complete album. It is however a diligently wrought piece of art; it ebbs and flows beautifully, and leaves him plenty of latitude to be unique, to tread various thematic paths, and crucially to push the hip-hop genre further. In a genre where artists are too often hidebound to conform to a fake image, Dan is a true beacon of honesty.
Download ‘Face’ for free at itsdanbull.com/face