Unless you’ve been basking under one of those old style rocks that doesn’t come with integrated internet access; you’re bound to have learnt that the label at the forefront of British rap’s recent renaissance has been High Focus Records. The label started by Fliptrix and a few friends has gone from strength to strength since it’s inception, becoming a household name in the UK hip hop scene and gaining a global following. The label’s earliest, and most revered release Nature’s Greatest Mystery, found Flipz, Verbs, Leafy & BVA donning feathered face-masks to write and perform as The Four Owls. Since then, the fans have heard the members collab on numerous HF releases, and gotten solo albums from three of the men minus their avian pseudonyms; but were left waiting when it came to Rusty Take Off AKA BVA’s own solo project for the label. On this new LP, the westcountry MC has supplied the fans with exactly what we’ve been waiting for; Be Very Aware is seventeen tracks of rugged rap goodness from the RLD camp that leaves no rock unturned, making it much harder for the technophobic people I made up in the intro to hide from the inevitable rise of one of the UK’s most commanding voices.
On an album almost entirely produced by boom-bap-blood-brothers Leaf Dog and Illinformed, you already know every track’s cream of the hip hop crop; and with nearly every artist on the High focus label guesting, and the giant leaps BVA has been making in both content and delivery, this album is essential for any UK hip hop heads. The intro sample that recurs throughout the LP frames not only the album’s content but also the rapper’s personality well, bringing a light-hearted, yet realistic tone. Rain Or Shine hammers straight out of the gate at a pace likely to get everyone’s neck snappin as Leaf Dog’s ear for soulful samples serves him well once again. The lyrical course BVA sets early on is reflective of the LP’s title; from his personal perspective on ‘lookin for inner peace’ to advice for the listeners; ‘If you’ve lost you, then go find him, cuz everyone’s got their own diamonds they’re shaping and refining’.
Hype Man keeps the mood chilled with another of the RLD producer’s placid instrumentals that’ll have you packing piff like Borat packed in questions about cheese in that supermarket. BVA takes the time to touch on the pitfalls of pride many have fallen into as their music and egos blow up, trading humbleness for overblown self importance in this cautionary anecdote. Fellow brother Of The Stone Illinformed makes his first appearance with some strong production that keeps things simple for BVA to impart his views on Frontin. His words pull no punches, calling out anyone posing, and promising things they can’t deliver, but keeping the content positive by adding lines to inspire; ‘there’s no shame in saying there’s something you’re lacking’.
This Love Is Love is a heartfelt ode to the culture we all owe so much to; with BVA reppin the reasons Hip Hop moves him. The dope video that accompanies the tune is itself a fitting tribute to beatmaking, tagging, writing rhymes, diggin vinyl and smoking grade, with BVA bringing some fire in the booth backed by his High Focus family. ‘Give me a fat bag of weed and some beats and you won’t see the Beaver for weeks, capisce?’ Leaf outdid himself with Where’s The Mic At? It’s one of the album’s highlights, as the duo with more chemistry than Crick and Watson work their magic over the song’s ghostly operatic overtones. This style is what the Real Life Drama crew are known for perfecting; penning verses full of metaphor that flow loose and breezy like MC Hammer’s fucked up trousers. Leaf Dog’s chorus sees him at his rowdy best; ‘If ya showin us love, we show it right back, only really concerned with where the mic’s at‘, and BVA’s verse is one of his strongest deliveries to date, ‘they say it’s drastic but not from where I’m sittin, there’s sour milk in the fridge but the wise took a sip and kept spittin, don’t speak commandments, but know we’ve written them, stonecut the track and spit flows in the incision.’
The first influx of grade-A guest appearances kicks off with style on the riotous It’s A Mad World; Sammy B Side scratches up some K-lash, Dre, Jam Baxter and KRS with his distinct style that has developed drastically over the last year, and Cracker Jon & BVA bring their best to this banger, as does HF- head-honcho Fliptrix; who manages to convey balance through a cluster of contradictory comparisons in his outstanding sixteen. Verb T’s now classic character makes a surprising, yet welcome return with his Dick Tru-Say Skit, making this my favourite appearance from the jocular disc jockey yet; the end of which edges ever-closer to that raging Alan Partridge impression you know T must have perfected by now. Gifted is another of the LP’s best, and when that sense of humour creeps over into verb’s bars you get gems; ‘I gotta spread the gift, women want Verb T on December 25th, under the tree, wearing nothin but a grin, do they? or do they ask ‘man, what the fuck is up with him?”
Can’t Hear You is one of the best HF tracks BVA has put his name to; the beat’s lethargic horns plod forward as the MC reminds the haters why he’s still too high to hear their cries, dodges honey traps and keeps an open mind around blinkered people. That potent herb gets a shout out again on three minute intoxicant dedication Weapon Of Choice; each of the three rappers dedicating their bars to their chosen method of inebriation. Dirty Dike’s alcoholic ramblings come clear and stinking like the cider bubble he’s trapped his mind in, and since Return Of The Twat he’s gotten filthier, and more debauched. Every guest appearance he seems to get more hopelessly hammered yet stronger with the words, like Bukowski with bars. Even with two slamming verses preceding him, Kashmere drops another heavy verse. The Iguana Man’s on fine form as he divulges his altered states of consciousness come from dimethyltriptamine trips, and takes you on a psychedelic journey through his innerspace with lyrics more potent and mentally challenging than the synthesized version of the organic compound he’s ingesting.
Since Reuben’s Train Rag N Bone man can do no wrong in my eyes, and once again his guest vocals add weight to any song he graces. Thankfully, the ostensibly derogatory title of That Old Bitch is metaphor for jealousy, as BVA pens one of his more personal songs and shows how far he’s come over the last few years. ‘I find myself hating rich kids but let it go, cuz moneys born from trees, man you can watch it grow, and they were born into their lives, and me in mine, I free my mind because hating is a waste of time.’ NLP’s Smellington Piff makes a storming guest appearance on lonely stoner anthem Let Me Relax In My Cave. It still blows my mind how huge this dude’s voice is; he smashes his verse, packing in truth like he packs a bowl; ‘hate them posh pricks who claim they ‘do weed’ and get pissed off of two pimms, wearing tight jeans, tank tops and mood rings.’ BVA’s verse is standardly strong and stylish; this kind of beat brings out his rugged side as he gets down to spittin some sick bars with a hunger you can hear ‘Normally I’m calmer than the average, on the flipside, smash shit, grab kids over-react quick, stood in the shitstorm without a raincoat, I walk amongst the sheep, but I’m not tryin’a be the scapegoat.’ Be Gone Bitches has some nice verses, but ultimately the beat isn’t as good as the rest; the chorus is too repetitive, and even though BVA explains that it’s not a slight against women, you’re not likely to be singing along with that one unless you fancy sounding a bit derogatory.
Amdek’s only production credit on Be Very Aware is a monster of a beat that leaves Leaf and Beav relaying their hallucinatory experiences on mushies with their trademark style. Its dope the way their verses interact with each other, both speaking on their mate in the garden from two different tripped-out perspectives. BVA begins his bars by spewing his brew back up, then seeing wildebeest on the mantelpiece; and after trying to bend spoons in the kitchen, Leafy has a chat with himself for a bit then manages to clamber back to the ‘real world’s’ grey days just in time to kill the chorus with some lines bound to go down well on the festival circuit; ‘Give me shrooms, give me weed, gimme 2C-I & LSD, lick a frog, smoke the bark from a tree, people just come an take a trip with me.’ After that departure from the production style of previous tracks, the album gets really interesting as the experimentation shakes up the status quo further with the cloud-stepping sitar strains of Insomnileptic. Illinformed pulls one of his best productions out the bag and makes a beat that sounds like smoking your way through a comedown. BVA switches up his style and writes with a more stream-of-consciousness flow that darts between daydream and waking life and echoes eerily like it’s simultaneously moving closer and further away from you; the whole track is like delving into the mid of burnt-out hippies lamenting the death of Timothy Leary, in a good way. Am I Going Crazy is another beat that makes you wana start rapping your tits off; which is exactly what BVA proceeds to do, only finally slowing his momentum when the album finishes; making this tune and Spit The Soulder two tracks packed with solid bars, ill scratches and dope beats to round off this début album as strongly as it began. Top to bottom BVA has delivered everything you’d want as a fan, and added some interesting curve balls with the beat selection late on in the second half, and brought the fire lyrically but kept his lines watertight, insightful and relevant. Be Very Aware is an essential album, full of hype tracks that were made to be played in headphones chillin with red eyes, or blasted over a loudspeaker as you flip tables and neck ten cans; the shit’s so exciting it makes me wana do both.
The album’s out this friday! Go grab the double vinyl with digital download or CD version from HF!