It goes without saying that Ramson Badbonez is a highly esteemed name in hip hop circles, his previous mixtapes and EP’s have allowed him to move further and further up the rungs of popularity. Solidifying him as both a contested artist and a talented writer. Despite this I can imagine for any artist pushing a second album is a testing experience, especially if their debut managed to stir up a cacophony of commendation about their musical abilities. Produced entirely by Charlie Mac and released on the mighty High Focus label A Year in the Life of… is undoubtedly a release which many fans have been waiting for.
The very nature of OTS teeters on the edge of complexity and entertainment, a conceptual album which represents inner-city crime over a twelve month period. Each month is driven by the album’s protagonist, Oscar, who artfully reveals the dark undercurrent of the city he lives in.
Opening up the year is (unsurprisingly) January – In Da Blitz Time, which gets right to the crux of what Badbonez is trying to say. A cheerful patois inspired ditty follows a booming beat which cleverly contradicts the powerful message of the starting track. January quickly merges into February where Badbonez is joined by Mystro who contributes with his own part of the story. Whateva the Weather’s lyricism is sharply defined by the bitter winter climate but impressively juxtaposed with a smooth, soulful chorus.
Rolling with a feature heavy track is Scruffy, Bummy, Hungry which sees Jam Baxter and Joker Starr fully immerse themselves in Oscar’s very own dark metropolis, which leads the way for yet another guest verse in the month of April. April Fool’s Day combines spine tingling vocals from Balance and incredible lyricism and understanding from MAB. It’s a collaboration that is arguably one of the strongest on the whole album. Showcasing perfectly delivered bars such as ‘so I wait to see another day/nothing’s changed, staring at the same ugly life and the same butters face’. Sometimes it seems that artists pick people to work with for arbitrary reasons but each collab on OTS is thoughtfully chosen, not one artist clashes with the music being created.
Fast forward to the early summer months and you have a slight attitude change from the seemingly despondent Oscar. June gives you a ‘breakdown of my whole year’, with Badbonez summing up life in London down to a tee. Despite the title track being named ‘Foul Moods’ July is a surprisingly chipper effort which sees the protagonist describing in typical British fashion just how the weather has managed to change his mood. But it’s not without a slice of realism, Badbonez waxes lyrical about women and not having a job: ‘sleeping all day sometimes then wake up on the same flex no need to take a rain check/lure skets on to the cold steps, there’s no bed/if it’s sure sex, pass the Durex’.
September – Chains and Whips, is drenched in a political talk and serious statements, using different car manufacturers as a metaphor for gratuitous greed and materialism. Rivalling MAB for the title of ‘best feature’ is Genesis Elijah, who delivers an aggressive, passionate verse about capitalism and slavery. As winter slowly rears its ugly head October and November manage to stand out as two of the boldest tracks on the album. The tenth month of the year is an ode to Oscar, boasting a slew of artistic expression. Badbonez’s straight talking wordplay blends together with Fliptrix’s vivid rhyme schemes in stark contrast to Rag n Bone Man’s jaw dropping vocal skills. An impressive flurry of the UK’s biggest names. Just as notable as October is November – Desperation. The lead single lifted from the album doesn’t disappoint, mixing high pitched vocal samples with a poignant message throughout: Just me and four friends looking to make more ends/ taught to fend for ourselves and the embrace the torment. For a lesser artist the wordplay about shotting drugs and girls could easily turn into a disaster but Badbonez pulls it off effortlessly.
As OTS draws to a close it’s easy to see it’s an extremely polished, impressive piece of work. As previously mentioned if an artist who didn’t possess Badbonez’s calibre attempted a concept album such as this it would most likely fail. It takes a certain type of artist to combine story telling devices with observational commentary on the human condition. In typical style Badbonez does it very, very well. Almost every month is as good as the last and the ones which present themselves as the best are examples of the finest tracks of the year.
Part of the presence of the album has to gifted to the insane production value. Charlie Mac has completely out done himself throughout, managing to match the instrumentals with the tone of the music perfectly. There are certain tracks which I’m sure would sound incredible played without the bars laid over the top; Desperation and Chains and Whips being two examples of that.
A deep almost soul searching release which is ultimately thought provoking and satisfying. It wouldn’t be too brash to say this is one of the best UK releases in years. Superb.
Review by Louise Brisbane
A year in the life of Oscar the slouch is available here on CD, digital and limited edition double gate fold vinyl.