Long-term LDZ member and renowned mic veteran Dabbla is quickly becoming one of the UK’s most consistent lyricists in terms of both output and performance. It’s no surprise that High Focus decided to sign Dabbla in June this Summer. Since the announcement, Dabbla has graced many stages and finally declared a date to release his highly anticipated debut solo album called ‘Year of the Monkey’.
This year, Dabbla enjoyed an eventful Summer. Highlights include smashing a gig at Fabric with Problem Child, an experimental hip-hop quadret of which Dabbla is a founding member. In June, Dabbla got booked to play at the Secret Solstice Festival in Iceland, where the sun didn’t set for three days and Dabbla very nearly lost his mind. Afterwards, Dabbla travelled to Glastonbury riding alongside DJ Sammy B-Side, where he performed as a ⅓ of the Dead Players beside Jam Baxter & Ghosttown; Dirty Dike was also close-by. Fun fact: somehow Dabbla smuggled Pete Cannon into Glasto without a wristband. Boom Bap Festival became especially memorable for Dabbla, as both his Dead Players and Problem Child collectives shared a stage on a clash. Boomtown was Dabbla’s “favourite Summer rinse”, however the High Focus Bristol block party was hugely momentous as it was where Dabbla performed his first full solo show.
It’s difficult to briefly summarise Dabbla’s achievements, but what you need to know is that as he prepared to drop his debut solo album on High Focus last Friday, ‘Year of the Monkey’ was the tenth official LP Dabbla has featured on over the course of his esteemed rapping career. The debut features 17 tracks, some of which were initially wrote over a decade ago. There are also 6 fresh features from Dubbledge, Dirty Dike, Cobes, Ocean Wisdom, Graziella and Jam Baxter.
From the off, what is striking about Dabbla’s rhymes are that for the most parts his honesty is brazenly apparent. Revelling in shameless self-depictions of getting spangled or detailing his vivid emotions, Dabbla lays his peculiar personality on a plate for the introductory single called ‘Everything’ over a mellow instrumental. Secondly noticeable was the clear differentiation with instrumentation used on the following tracks, as though to demonstrate Dabbla’s lyrical versatility as he does so aptly on ‘Supermodified’, backed by a hyper electronic beat before going deeper with the rhymes over an even bouncier tempo on ‘PterdactILL’.
‘Cheers’ is positive, upbeat and frankly quite merry. You can safely presume that it would be hectic to witness live. Standout single ‘Randeer’ [Round ’ere] follows, with a dope visual to match. This may be the first track on the record where the beatmaker outshines the rhymer, Star.One deserves due credit for contributing such an addictive instrumental to the mix. After ‘That There’, another notable highlight is the hyper-active beat on ‘Incomparable’, as Dabbla emphasizes his lyrical superiority whilst demoralising any rival rappers who might dare contest him.
Dubbledge and Dirty Dike make the first vocal features on a comedic self-love anthem called ‘Penis For The Day’. The following Ghosttown produced track ‘Stupid’ was the first single gifted a visual in anticipation for the album release, that has since received over 100’000 Youtube plays in just two months. LDZ affiliate Cobes joins in on ‘Spin’, a wavy rendition about picking up the ladies, displaying both artists in their comfort zone. Young High Focus prodigy Ocean Wisdom comes through on ‘Get It’, impressing as he competes Dabbla’s lyrical stamina with a variety of flows and rapid multi-syllabic tempos. Graziella sings soulfully on ‘Psychoville’, before the final lyrical feature is made by Dead Players compadre Jam Baxter, who joins in on ‘Vomit’ over another crazy Ghosttown production.
Dabbla becomes euphoric as he boastfully reiterates his self-acclaimed supremacy on ‘Super Happy’. The following single called ‘Butterfly’ is conceptually intriguing as Dabbla ponders existential dilemmas, laying his soul bare for his listeners to understand or potentially relate to. ‘Bad Continuity’ is another unrelenting demonstration of Dabbla’s rapping finesse, before the album outro ‘Life Line’ commences, an engrossing self-biographical depiction of the life Dabbla has led and the experiences which influenced his rise into becoming the charismatic rapper he is today.
‘Year of the Monkey’ succeeds by displaying Dabbla at his most versatile and to an extent his most vulnerable. As most glimpses of his musical ability thus far has been from his LDZ, Dead Players & Problem Child collaborations, ‘Year of the Monkey’ proves that Dabbla can steal the spotlight on his own two feet. There is as much comedy as craziness to keep the listener entertained, providing genuine insights into the actual life of Dabbla. The variety of beatsmiths benefits the album hugely, the instrumentals are as riveting as they are unique, providing the listener with something quite different to what they’re used to. No-one was quite sure what to expect, however Dabbla has managed to exceed early expectations, providing fans with an album that is as fresh as it is innovative. High Focus set another standard of excellence in modern UK hip-hop culture.
Words by @EthanEverton