I’m not a Drake or a Wayne
Or a Jay-Z or a Kanye West MC,
I’m a cheese lemon zest MC,
Dallas, Falcon Crest MC
-Wiley on “Better Than The Rest”
Somewhere between a quarter and third through grime OG D Double E’s long-awaited debut album, Jackuum, the listener is rudely awaked to the genre’s own unwillingness to compromise. As thirty seconds of hilarious chatter about the MC’s death-defying hair on “Back in the Day - Storming Skit” recede into a disjunctively warm and hazy waft of post-Dilla West Coast G-skunk, D Double (oddly at first) talking about wanting to go back in the day, the listener is shook loose by the cozy familiarity of this all-too friendly Top 40 sound. Following the preceding six tracks’ (and a skit’s) worth of icy minimaximalism, the funky soulfulness feels woefully aslant like a parka on a Miami beachside. Where’s the robofunk, the Eskibeat, the ebullient inhumanity?
Grime never sounded ‘right.’ After all, when a genre belches forth its (mainstream-stamped) highwater mark before it’s even had a chance to fumble forward and feel itself out, American standards are always going to fall short, especially when we refuse to understand from whence the MC arose in the UK. After all, when we never comprehended UKG, let alone the East from the West, how are we supposed to drink ice cubes? Or huff dried ice? Poor Wiley didn’t stand a chance.
In a world where a certain percentage of listeners will hear ‘UK rap’ be it called Grime, Road Rap, or the (hella condescending) UK Drill, dog forbid anyone but Americans stake a claim to freezing nihilism expressed via future beats and rhymes. Whether you were first introduced via pirate radio or the Grime 1.0 and 2.0 hits “Birds in the Sky” or “Street Fighter,” if you’ve had the distinct pleasure of basking in the MC’s eternal glow, you know man’s got enough charisma to fill a stadium let alone a twenty-track LP that flies past with a knowing alacrity. And despite there having been one (and possibly two) Newham Generals LP’s in the offing, one only need to watch him out-charisma Wiley on early single “Better Than The Rest” to want to hear much more. Though leave it to Wiley to make the listener both uneasy at his uncomfortable shout-out to Lady Leshurr’s torso before drawing forth a high-pitched “OOOOOH” at his casual dismissal of four of the states’ most oppressively influential MC’s.
He gets that gregarious “dapper Dan” style from his father, he says: “You look at photos of him from back in the day, it’s like Eddie Murphy in Raw: full leathers, V-neck with the hairy chest – when my dad walks down the road, everyone knows him, you know?”
-Dan Hancox in conversation with D Double E
A sort of lived-in casual humor and confident self-effacement can be felt throughout Jackuum, right from the opening seconds of “Jaackum FM Intro” with our host pulling the old David Byrne-style artist-interviews-artist-as-other-character routine, D Double affecting a fawning (and of course female, sigh) fan and setting the stage that his bigger-than-life personality will pervade every cell of the album. Shit gets grrrrrrimmmmmmy with the first of sixteen massive minor key beats, the bell-and-bass body beater of “Bark It,” the MC’s signature taglines making it clear we are, finally, hearing his uncompromising artistic vision. “Flatmate” continues the opening two-part salvo, the hallmark MIDI brass section adding a distinctly magisterial veneer to the proceedings.
Pacing things like one would the most riveting of radio sets, “Unda Obo - Skit” gives way to the album’s first triptych of out-and-out bangers. Kicking things off is the siren song of “Lookman,” its lurching, darting, and sparse bassline providing the neck-snapping theatrics. It also boasts two of the album’s most telling features; Wiley on the aforementioned heater “Better Than The Rest” and Skepta on the lurking “Nang.” Considering the mainstream attention both guests have rightfully deserved, their presence on both tracks feels like a genuine collaboration. Neither are contesting that D Double E is bursting forth with a verbal and vocal flexibility that few can fuck with. Rather, as seen in the cute video for “Nang” when D Double finishes each of Skepta’s line, trading the mic back and forth like a hot potato, this is inherently collaborative music in a way that few American MC’s really seem to understand. To put it in the most US-centric terms, D Double is a Young Thug with an A$AP curatorial sense who helped lay the grime blueprint while taking all the right notes from his stateside bredren. Indeed, if Jackuum’s singular sonic achievement can be identified, it’s that it’s the most effortless synthesis of UK and American MC-fronted music while staying too true to its own genesis.
Circling back to the aforementioned “Back in the Day” skit, its American affectations are cut short by the 16-bit atonal symphony of “Back Then,” a track that provides one of the most succinct narrations of London dance from dnb through to grime. And it’s got a bass sound you wanna eat like a Reuben while namechecking MC’s like Busta and producers like Timbo who were listening to the Black Atlantic and it listened back.
Hitting its second stretch, “Schoolin’” takes things even further back to drop a classic Dizzee-Eski hybrid triplet march, the portamento, crying topline bending over backwards in line with its leader’s tumbling microtones. A high-pitched, drawn-out “EXCLOOOOOOSIVE” kicks off the darting rave-up of “Dem Man Dere,” the subs kicking out utter filth in the process. The careening sino-grime strings on “Trippin” are a personal highlight for this listener, probably because it sorta functions as a sequel of sorts to “Birds” (or I like to think it does. Following the tepid yet vibes-right of “Live Tonight,” the scene-setting melody and vocal calisthenics “Special Delivery” inaugurates the album’s final third where some of its deepest gems are buried. “Seeing Double” and its cheeseball piano line are brought to life by Double’s larger-than-life presence, turning a middling beat into an animated and memorable lowkey flamethrower.
The marching band horns pop back up on the skanking “Shenanigans” before the energy dies down briefly for the underwhelming “Natural Organic,” ultimately providing the listener with a necessary chance to grab their breath before the body-gun that is “Money Back” helps bring the album to a most-satisfying closure. For the entirety of its hour runtime, Jackuum stands tall and confident, uncompromising while remaining ever-porous and fluid. Where pockets of musical innovation in the States can remain confidently unaware of sounds in other part of this country let alone world, grime has always been a confounding negotiation between Britain’s own heterodox musical history and the fact that nothing gets created in an vacuum. Sound abhors a nation-state. And yet, taking in Jackuum’s wide berth of sonic influences, it becomes clear what the uncanny power of grime truly is and why it likely won’t last past its second generation, transmuting into UK Drill and who knows what’s next?
MC-led music’s most important contribution to musical history is its unwillingness to be ascribed to any single zeitgeist, any one point in the timeline. It’s always looking forward while popping a wheelie on the contemporary mood, amplifying collective fears while providing a necessary heat exhaust to draw out all the inspiration one can from discomfort. Violence can be educational, after all. And so can humanity. That’s what D Double E has and will continue to represent, the inherently rhizomatic nature of becoming—one’s ability to integrate paradoxes as logical operators—that also sticks to its tribes, to its lane. If his Dad is Raw, than D Double is Delirious and all we can do is try to keep up he stays while living in the past, present, and future. This is traditional FWD music. Ohhhh my gawwwwwwad.
And never forget this bangerang….