It’s baffling to consider that Si Phili’s career has extended almost two decades of experience, yet only on March 11th will he be finally set to release his début solo album ‘The 11th Hour’.
At the start of the new millennium, Si Phili took the UK hip-hop scene by storm when he emerged alongside Life MC and DJ Nappa as Phi Life Cypher, releasing the infamous ‘Millennium Metaphors’ album in 2000. On top of releasing another two albums and a string of EP’s, one of their most successful ventures as a collective was their collaboration with the Gorillaz – a remix of their culturally significant ‘Clint Eastwood’ track. Though Phi Life Cypher parted ways in 2012, Phili’s passion for hip-hop was undying, so afterwards he continued pursuing a solo career.
2014 was an eventful year for Si Phili, as it oversaw his first release since disbanding from Phi Life Cypher. That album was ‘Phil ‘N’ The Dotz’, performed by a freshly formed rap duo known as Phili ‘N’ Dotz, which was Si Phili alongside Bedford’s battle rap champion Dotz. ‘Phil ‘N’ The Dotz’ was named by Fabricate-UK as the No.1 “UK Hip-hop album debut of 2014”.
The success of the ‘Phil ‘N’ The Dotz’ album led to the launch of Phili’s own homegrown label, Phoenix Recordings. For the last 12 months, Phili has been busy performing nationwide tours, penning down verses and overseeing the output from Phoenix Recordings.
Aside from hip-hop, Phili also broke the headlines on account of his efforts alongside his local Luton community. In 2010, Si Phili actively spearheaded a campaign to tackle knife crime with producer Richy Spitz, using their music to raise awareness of the issues and often tragic consequences of carrying knives.
Today, Phili is ready to unleash his debut solo album ‘The 11th Hour’, due for release March 11th 2016. The album boasts over 20 tracks, with features from some of the UK’s most renowned hip-hop producers including Pete Cannon, Leaf Dog and Richy Spitz, on top of lyrical contributions from the likes of Dotz, Sizzla and R&B vocalist J Lorenzo.
After a quick introductory skit (‘11:00’), Phili wastes no time to demonstrate his lyrical finesse on the first two tracks, ‘Check It Out’ & ‘P-H-I-L-I’, flowing like a freestyle as he boastfully emphasizes his might with “hard bars, not for the faint hearted.” He’s initially backed by a Pete Cannon headbanger, before Leaf Dog comes through to contribute his typical soulful influence on the ‘P-H-I-L-I’ beat.
Close affiliator Dotz makes the first lyrical feature on a track called ‘Big Bars’ – named for obvious reasons. Richy Spitz lays down a beat that sends the rappers on a verbal warpath, exhibiting the talent existing within the Phoenix Recordings roster. A track that’s guaranteed to cause mosh pits.
For ‘Let It Go’, Oli Atom features riveting cuts over another mesmerising Leaf Dog production.
As the album progresses the mood changes with it. Make no mistake that there are certain songs which will tug at your heartstrings whether you want them to or not.
As it was with Eminem’s chart-topping track ‘Mockingbird’ or Nas’ acclaimed song ‘Daughters’, Si Phili expresses pure love for his daughter in a powerful tribute called ‘In The Morning’. As Richy Spitz provides a poignant instrumental, Phili relays memories of himself and his daughters mother before the birth, his fear for his daughters happiness in a world full of negativity, and ultimately ensures her that under any circumstance he’ll always be there to give her his “last quid” and even his “last breathe”. J Lorenzo’s smooth R&B hook truly enhances the emotions Phili tries to convey. It’s sure to be a guilty pleasure for all the good fathers out there.
The sentiment switches as Phili snaps straight back to action on the next track called ‘Travelling’. The tune’s an account of Si’s experiences on road, plane or even on foot exploring the world on tours, produced by Bedford based beatsmith Passion HiFi. Leaf Dog comes through again on ‘Brand New’, before another short sweet track called ‘Chastity Rap’ see’s Phili go in with savage rhymes over an immersive instrumental from a producer called Urban Click.
J Lorenzo returns with some more smooth R&B verses on the following two tracks, the first being ‘Pain’, a single which sees Phili bare his soul, lyrically confronting the trials, tribulations and struggles he faces to try unravel an optimistic outcome, giving the listener a first-hand insight into Phili’s complex thought processes. The next song called ‘Help Me’ is truly heartfelt, as Phili pens “the hardest letter I ever wrote” to his alcoholic pap, reminiscing the difficult times which even I find too difficult to type. Again he searches for a sliver of a silver lining in his undeterminable future, “trying to find a way to be a better father”.
Afterwards, Phili positively returns to his fun-loving ways, emphasized by a boisterous upbeat track called ‘Free’ produced by Hugh Heffner.
Next up is a hymn for the herbaholics, ‘Ghetto Trend Setters’ featuring legendary ragga lyricist Sizzla and producer Anno Domini, bringing bliss reggae vibes to the platter as Phili and Sizzla spit verses laced with pro-black consciousness back-to-back. Another outstanding anthem, an irresistible instant reload.
More impressive features follow from New York veterans Afu Ra & Mayhem on ‘Revolutionary Bars’, collectively “coming with these radical raps” alongside Phili over another headbanging beat from Leaf Dog.
The cyphers keep on coming, as Phili enlists the lyrical aid of London MC’s Charm and Emcee Killa for an anti-authoritative track called ‘Police State’. Richy Spitz drops an apocalyptic beat as the rappers commence, holding nothing back as they collaboratively protest police militarization, cop caused mortalities and the “big brother” effect of CCTV, essentially sending a middle finger salute to cops making things harder for those who already have it the toughest. J Lorenzo comes through afterwards on ‘Change’, which see’s Phili promote the necessity of an uprising, challenging the government “treating people like scum”, calling for unity amongst the community to tackle social problems and ultimately bring about a better change.
I’m going to break the mould right now and tell you that ‘Barmageddon’ featuring Rockness & Skirmish is the greaziest track on the record, filled with unnerving yet captivating bars over a gloomy but addictive boom-bap instrumental produced by Urban Click that takes you straight back to the 90’s. One of those you truly need to hear to comprehend, another stand-out classic.
There’s one last feature from J Lorenzo on ‘Bringing It Back’, a track which relates to the older generation as we hear Phili “reminisce on the past” with nostalgic references to the good old days before hip-hop’s millennial culture change.
On the final song ‘Scrollin’ featuring Benjamin Zephania, Phili expresses his gripes with the internet, making bold claims such as “this time that I’m living in isn’t healthy / where people are taking risks and then dying to take a selfie” and “some of this shit I’m seeing is begging belief / people threaten to kill over some insignificant tweets”, making clear that he perceives the net to be a negative influence which falsifies how people portray themselves and causes bad behaviour.
The album climaxes spectacularly with the ‘11:59’ outro, a riveting coercion of reflective hip-hop sounds, created in part by Frank Philbert and produced by Richy Spitz.
‘The 11th Hour’ showcases a mature Si Phili at his most versatile, structured in a way which allows Phili to narrate a sequence of the highs, lows, fears and hopes confronted on his journey as a rap performer. The record reveals Phili’s revelations of being a father and ultimately unveils himself as a guy facing the same struggles as the rest of us… you know, on a human level. But don’t get it twisted, this is by no means a pessimistic record. Phili’s a wordsmith that underlines silver linings and promotes positivity. In amongst it all there’s exceptional features who each bring fresh a flavour to each track, accompanied all-the-while by captivating hip-hop instrumentals contributed by a dream team of productive talents.
Compact with frank, forthright raps Si Phili consistently hits the nail on the head when he conveys emotions with lyrics. Every track has a purpose and slots into place for a specific reason. Kind of like removing a domino from a row about to be knocked down, if even one track on the album is misplaced it has a detrimental effect on the album’s fluidity as a whole. The album becomes increasingly thematic and features some genuine musical gems towards the end. For the listener it becomes less about scrutinising the actual rhymes and more about appreciating the natural storytelling ability on display. Underlying each lyric is a message which might educate, motivate or simply flow well with the next one. Whatever the case, the wordplay is assuredly honest and makes for a compelling listen.
‘The 11th Hour’ blew us out of the water. Si Phili continues to set a supreme standard for lyrical excellence in the UK hip-hop scene.
Review by Ethan Everton