To say there’s some hype about the release of Chaos 93, the debut album from Brighton’s own Ocean Wisdom on High Focus, is a bit like saying Stormzy got some love this Christmas. Its safe to say High Focus are more than aware that they are on to something special with Wizzy. The last year and a half has seen him churn out a number of infectious head nodders, tear up live shows and gain a huge amount of attention for a relatively new name on the scene. After a long wait, Chaos 93’ is here and its dope. Fun fact: The title concept refers back to the moment when Ocean died at birth. According to the man himself, while his mum was unconscious and he was being resuscitated his father decided it was fitting to call him Chaos. His parents obviously thought better of it before registering his name as Ocean and the rest is history.
There’s a whole lot about the decisions made in the construction of this album that could only be described as bold. Too often a few heavy singles released before an LP drops imply that fans are in for something incredible, only to foster disappointment after they’ve parted with their pennies and find out that the filler fleshing out the album between the material they’re already familiar with is half arsed. Not so with Choas 93’. Self assured that maintaining quality isn’t an issue he needs to spare any worry for, Mr Wisdom has made the cocky choice to stick the 3 singles that have got everyone’s attention, (Walkin, Splittin the Racket and Snakes and Blaggers) right at the start of the album so that tracks 4 to 17 are all unknown entities at first listen. This attitude of doing it however the fuck he likes continues throughout the LP. Whether its pulling off having the gall to retrofit an Eminem hook on ‘High Street’ or frequently displaying that he knows that he’s going to be hot property in lyrics like ‘And even rockafella clocked a man was proper stellar, and even universal turned up at a few rehearsals’ (‘Devilish’), Ocean Wisdom exudes a confidence that he’s set for a takeover with Chaos 93’.
Lyrically Ocean Wisdom is a conundrum. Connecting with and perplexing the listener in equal measure. He goes in hard. As standard. There are really very few moments where the pace lets up even for a second. Giving zero fucks about variation in depth from moment to moment, he regularly raps himself round in circles as a product of his process seeming to be the uncensored pouring out of a jarring colour pallet of consciousness at a self professed rate of ‘lyric a day’ onto a vivid canvas. His imagery bounces between ridiculous, nonsensical and angry, interspersed with regular moments of humour, sharp wit and sporadic slices of social commentary and insight. Discordant topic connection works for him though, to the extent that its one of the things that makes his style distinctive. While it could be argued that the nature of dislocated statements has been part of the essence of hip-hop lyricism since its beginning and this therefore doesn’t make Wizzy particularly unique, what separates him from his current contemporaries on the UK scene is where he stands apexed at a central ground relative to everyone else. In multiple ways Ocean Wisdom bridges different schools of writing in his approach. He outflows clever, conceptual rappers and outsmarts rappers whose sole gimmick is vibes and flow.
Part of the reason High Focus are so obviously excited about Chaos 93’ is how marketable it is. At a time where they are already dominating the underground of the UK Hip-Hop scene, the hurdle that’s now in front of them is the possibility of hitting a ceiling and being limited by the size of their demographic. Victim to their own success in this sense, having now reached the vast majority of fans within the scene and arguably having expanded it to incorporate their own unique fan base, now options for expansion could become more limited. Having set a standard for artistic quality that has always remained high its very unlikely that Fliptrix and Co would make the mistake of opting for more mainstream, commercial releases in a bid to take the label to the next level as that would sacrifice the perceived credibility that’s earned them their spot in the first place. No-one likes a sell-out, and there isn’t really anyone on their roster that would be caught dead cashing in and going all Professor Green anyway. With that not being an option, an artist such as Ocean Wisdom is a lucrative prospect. He fits very well into the High Focus line-up and has tied his flag (at least for now) to the mast of Hip-Hop but due to his grimier edge than their other artists has the capability of reaching a wider array of listeners. Also with the likes of grime artists such as your Skeptas, JMEs, and Stormzys having the tendency to be capable of scraping the edges of the mainstream while still being regarded as credible (not often seen with UK Hip-Hop acts), the upper limits of what Wizzy might feasibly be able to bank could potentially be higher than any of his label mates. This will be exciting for HF both in terms of Ocean blowing up and also in the exposure it would earn the label, encouraging more people from different musical schools into discovering the label and what its about.
Another exciting thing about Chaos 93 is the calibre of the collaborations they’ve packed on to it. Highlights include The Four Owls with Verb T in particular killing it, Remus, Lunar C and a suitably weird verse from the Dikestar himself on ‘Freeze’, The most notable guests spots however come in the form of sick verses from Foreign Beggars and Klashnekoff. The Beggars and K-Lash respectively appeared on the UK Hip-Hop scene with debut LPs in 2003 and 2004. At which point Ocean was just finishing up with primary school. With the seminal works of both artists (at least in the sense of hip-hop in terms of Foreign Beggars) appearing at a time when O was so young and no doubt would have looked up to them as UK Hip-Hop big names, this must have created an interesting creative dynamic between new and old blood. Contrasting the due respect that Ocean would have for veterans he‘d have grown up listening to, in 2016 a guest spot on Chaos 93’ earns both FB and Klashnekoff a re-up in credibility amongst hip-hop heads who often regard both acts as having passed their pinnacle. What is so excellent about both ‘Devilish’ and ‘Doolally’ is how reminiscent the guest artists are of what they used to be. The Beggars are a particularly fitting collab as their early releases were trailblazing in terms of blending technical grimey flows into something that was nonetheless distinctly hip-hop. Although Orifice Vulgatron has been prolifically dropping sick guest spots on hip-hop releases constantly since forever, Foreign Beggars as a group haven’t been hip-hop since before United Colours of Beggatron dropped in 2009 and have spent the last few years, after their dubstep crossover phase, out of the limelight. Chaos 93’ is in a bunch of ways for 2016 what Asylum Speakers was for 2003, so its fucking awesome that Foreign Beggars have a part to play in it and smash the shit out of their verses, returning to a signature format that they pioneered. In the case of Klashnekoff, his verse on ‘Devilish’ is probably the sickest set of bars he’s put down since Focus Mode. Stylistically he compliments Ocean perfectly and the instrumental sounds like it was made for him. Its exciting to hear him fully back on form and hopefully there’s some new solo material to this standard in the pipeline.
Adding to his appeal, tempering the frantic flows that flood his tracks, Ocean seriously masters hooks. Whether its on spoken hooks such as the refrain surges on ‘Snakes and Blaggers’ and ‘Gone’ or melodic choruses such as ‘W.A.Y.D’ or ‘Freeze’, he has a knack for crafting catchy sections that stick in your head. As he confesses himself, Ocean isn’t the greatest singer. Nonetheless he’s come up with a bunch of sung hooks that immediately give his songs a memorable lyrical facet which is advantageous as the amount of syllables he plays with in his double time raps mean it would take a lot of listens before any verses are locked in peoples skulls. Keeping hooks simple, often verging on silly, seems to be key to them climbing inside the cranium and refusing to leave. I’ve been walking around finding myself constantly singing ‘Doolally, you been acting doolally, too pally pally with dem loose scabbies’ (‘Doolally’) to the point where I want to punch myself in the face for the last week, which I guess must be to the guys credit. Starkly different from the tone of the rest of the album, the James Blake-ish hook on spacey, atmospheric final tune ‘Jungle’ is another high point and demonstrates Oceans ability to vary styles.
Predominantly, what is most ominously impressive about wizzy ever since ‘Walkin’ dropped in summer 2014 is his frightening ability to consistently drop dark, credible bangers. In light of this, it seems only fair to spare a meagre section for Dike. With the exception of the sick Kid Kenieval collaboration ‘Ewok’, the man behind every single that has established Ocean Wisdom as a swiftly rising presence in the UK Hip-Hop scene is High Focus stalwart Dirty Dike. The guy needs some serious props for the amount of pies he’s kept his clam saturated fingers in over the past couple of years. Not only has he redefined himself as an artist with 2015’s excellent ‘Sucking On Prawns In The Moonlight’, displaying a new unexpected level of lyrical depth, but he has also been prolifically proving himself as a leading producer for a range of artists with his list of production credits to date now including Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Edward Scissortongue, Illiterate and Bill Next, Skuff, and a whole album for Lee Scott. If ‘The Man With The Foggy Eyes’ by Verb T and Illinformed were to set a high focus standard for limelight sharing, then a strong case could be made for the album cover of this outing reading ‘Chaos 93’ Ocean Wisdom and Dirty Dike.’ Having said this, the content is not without its shout outs from Ocean to his creative partner in bars such as ‘Heskey’s ‘On set with Dirty Dike, you know I set the erb alight, you gave me fuel to burn the light, I owe you one literally.’
Dike takes the LP on an Instrumental journey that provides plenty of different textures for Wizzy to apply his double time vibes to. Tracks range from dance and grime influenced booming monsters heavy on synths and distortion to the funky and chilled end of hip-hop beats. Frequently Dike and O have combined efforts on Chaos 93’ to create something that is simultaneously savagely live and at the same time weirdly hypnotic and trippy, typified by production on tracks such as the war march of ‘O Kiddi K’ and the darkly mellow ‘Freeze’. The dynamic between tracks keeps things varied throughout the album with frequent contrasts between raw and nasty beats providing a backdrop for O’s aggressive side and more traditionally hip-hop tracks. These include ‘Gone’, which sounds like the sort of beat Dike himself would have been spinning a revolting story on himself a few years ago, or the chilled out ‘One Take’ and ‘Imaginary’. Stand out track for Hip-Hop style though has to be head nodder ‘Real Smooth’ feat The Four Owls, with rolling flows from all involved complimenting a beat that reeks of early nineties era hip-hop, complete with vinyl crackle, old school kick and snare simplicity and live sounding bass sample.
‘Real Smooth’ as well as being a production highlight, is a stand out track in terms of Ocean’s vocals. Letting the pace slow a touch, Wizzy throws down some cocky funkier flows ‘Real Smooth, Real Icey, I was in the booth with Dike, you was in a nighty, I was selling out a show, you was in a onezie, the ketamin you sniffing got you clumsy’. Showing his versatility, the track hints at what a more hip-hop centred project from him would sound like. I’d buy it. Finally, when the last track ‘Jungle’ rolls around, Ocean Wisdom proves that he still has lyrical surprises left up his sleeve. Displaying an ability to be more poetically technical, he applies his penchant for complexity to be less about flowing as frenetically as possible and focuses on imagery and concepts, with some of his most impressive choices of vocabulary and some sick alliteration thrown in to boot. ‘Antagonistic megalomanic malicious masons, Calibrating and orchestrating callous communications To contribute to mass consumption of confused equations That conveniently cause coherent citizen sedation.’
A characteristic of a lot of Ocean Wisdom’s bars is the ability to confuse on first listen. Frequently this involves finding yourself saying ‘Hold on… What?’ and then pulling up the track to discover that pleasingly he’s just tongue twisted together something that under scrutiny does make sense with witty panache. In a few places however I’m totally confuzzled. As there’s not really anything I feel like bitching about enough to fill the criticism requirement for a review in the case of Chaos 93’. I’ve opted to substitute that section for a short list of things he’s come out with that have me completely lost and my incompetent attempts to decode them.
Given the fact that the last time I said I didn’t understand something a rapper was talking about in a review, Dabbla called me a Peen on twitter I realise I might be courting disaster here….
— Dabbla (@bigdabbla) October 22, 2015
But as my nan always said, learning from mistakes is for pussyclarts. So with reckless abandon I’m throwing my fucks to the wind and proudly presenting my top 4 “What the Fuck Ocean?’ moments.
1. ‘On the beat, I’m like a granddad. I go in.’ (‘Walkin’)
This ones been bugging me for over a year. As of yet no-one I’ve discussed this with has come up with an inspired explanation for why a granddad would be the logical example of something going in. Feel like I might be missing something obvious. What I have come to assume is that this is clearly an editing mistake and accidentally a few seconds have been cut out of the mix at which point Ocean has said something along the lines of;
‘I’m like a grandad I go in… to the bingo hall but inevitably leave disappointed’.
‘I’m like a granddad I go in… to A and E with a dislocated hip and spend the rest of my life relying on the use of a zimmer frame’
‘I’m like a granddad I go in… to my local churchyard to lay fresh flowers on the grave of my long deceased spouse before returning home to the void she has left in my now meaningless life while counting the days wistfully until my own inevitable demise.’
Having said this, none of these things sound like issues that a young buck such as Ocean Wisdom is likely to be dealing with in his early twenties. I’m stumped.
2. ‘My Album’s banging like Bin Laden on the Magna Carta’ (‘Jungle’)
After checking that there wasn’t a guest spot I had missed on M9 or Jay Z albums with the title Magna Carta by an obscure MC named Bin Laden, this lyric presented a perplexing problem. After much deliberation I have come to the following conclusion. Wizzy, in reference to the 13th century treaty between King John and feudal lords that has formed a tenuous part of the British constitution outlining basic civil rights, is making an insightful social statement about the impact that the legacy of anti-terror legislation in the Blair, Brown, Taliban era has had on the lives of British Citizens. In effect implying that the biggest blow Bin Laden struck against the UK was the erosion of our freedom.
On the other hand this sounds a bit convoluted, I don’t know what he means
3. ‘I aint even on that vibe, but I like that vibe, if you like that vibe you’re a knobend. Me I just clocked what I said, if you clocked you’re a twat then you got it. If not you’re a novice.’ (‘Snakes and Blaggers’)
This one just straight bamboozles me. I can’t even tell if its him that he’s run round in circles or me. I’m either a twat or a novice.
4. ‘I’m getting lean, I got a pound of draw. So much draw I worked out, I’m paying like a pound a drawer.’ (‘One Take’)
As best I can figure, the math for this one goes like this. Wizzy has 16 ounces of draw. This 16 ounces is enough to fill a drawer. Its costing him £1 pound per the 16 ounces required to fill said drawer. Therefore give me his dealers number.
Or he’s saying it costs him a quid for a spliff. That probably makes more sense.
Anyway, I’m just messing with the above really. Largely because there’s very little to criticise about Chaos 93’ from the point of view of a debut album from a young and hungry emcee. Staying repeatedly listenable across 17 tracks is not an easy feat for a first release and Ocean does it admirably. Primarily what is impressive about him at this point in his career is flow patterns that are on a par with the best of his competitors but there are also frequent moments that imply a greater depth to the rapper that will hopefully emerge further in material to come. What will be really interesting will be to see where Ocean Wisdom goes from here. The 22 year old will undoubtedly have to make some shrewd decisions over the coming years. With how marketable he is and major labels already sniffing about sensing his cross over appeal, his career could take a number of directions in the future. Fans of Chaos 93’ will probably be hoping he stays the course of building on the signature sound he‘s forged so far, maintaining credibility and gradually growing a fan base through underground routes. With the possibility of truckloads of money however, its not impossible that future albums from him might become diluted by major label bullshitery, which would be a massive shame. Questions over his specific direction are even broader. Will he go over to the grime side? Is a more classically hip-hop guise on the cards? Or with labels like Roc-A-Fella showing interest, might he disappear off to the states? Whatever the case Chaos 93’ gives plenty of reason to be excited about what chapter two might hold.
Review by Kieron Sullivan