It’s already been two years since Sheffield-hatched, London-based emcee The Ruby Kid released his superlative Maps EP, a CD which garnered a long list of laudatory reviews by writers and bloggers such as myself. Since then, he’s decided to put rap on the back burner, and instead devote much of his energy to pushing the ever-burgeoning London spoken-word scene forward. His new release, Strange, Lively, & Commonplace, proves however, that he hasn’t abandoned hip-hop altogether just yet.
Like Maps, his new release pivots on the border of hip-hop and spoken-word poetry, and successfully draws together elements of both art-forms in defining a style quite distinct from that of any other UK artist out there. In many ways, the four-track EP represents a continuation of Maps, especially in how it forges sensibilities that emerge from the artist’s own daily political, social and introspective experiences within the spatial framework of the capital. For Ruby, the music serves as a canvas onto which he brushes his ideas, the meaning of which we as listeners are left to infer.
Though his lyricism is especially dense and poetic, he is sure not to privilege his words over his music, and DJ/producer Dan Angell’s input on the EP in this regard is crucial. Angell’s well-crafted arrangements wring out the tension of Ruby’s edgy, disembodied poetics superbly and provide subtle harmonic sequences for genuine narrative arcs to develop throughout each track. Spare and frugal, bar a few horn flourishes and kooky indie film samples, the EP is a very slick and sophisticated soundscape in which the percussion, key and bass layers interlock seamlessly.
For the most part, The Ruby Kid’s lyrical praxis remains much the same in this EP as it was in Maps. Rejecting mawkish over-sentimentality, he broods over topics and expounds his observations through a nuanced lexicon, shot through with hard and powerful flashes of realism. Much like indie rap forebear Aesop Rock, The Ruby Kid aims to challenge the listener to educe meaning from his music rather than merely spoon-feeding them, and much beholden to his hip-hop idol, he even quotes several memorable lines out of Labor Days.
Despite its brevity, Strange, Lively, & Commonplace certainly doesn’t disappoint. There are a few minor flaws; the choruses for example, lack vitality and Ruby’s cadence could also arguably do with more variation, but the EP’s combination of dense poetic lyricism over cleverly-wrought, low-key instrumentals is still sure to provide a compelling listen to any attentive musical ear.
Download Strange, Lively and Commonplace for free here.