Friday, 30 December 2011

The Urbanite End of Year Awards (The Countdown) - UK Album of the Year

The other week, we gave you The Urbanite's definitive list of the best music and artists of 2011.  With only days away until the end of the year, and after much deliberation and last minute changes, the list has finally been made.  We'll be revealing the winners on the 31st, but here is a look at the acts that just missed the cut and why in the UK Album of the Year category.

5. Wretch 32 - Black And White

After Tinie Tempah achieved such mainstream success, Wretch 32 was the artist next tipped to break a hole in the UK charts.  Signed to the Ministry of Sound record label, the Tottenham born rapper has always been the rapper's rapper with his witty metaphors and clever word-play.  After the success of his first single, the 'made for the dancefloor' Traktor, and the the achievement of getting to number one in the charts with his second hit, Don't Go, his first album was always going to be good and Black and White lives up to expectations.

The lyrical content of the album, rather than the mainstream radio friendly tracks, is what makes this a big release from Wretch.  Coming out shortly after the London riots, the album has a lot of social commentary on what it is like to grow up in a place like Tottenham "I never did sleep cos I never had dreams...I had a pair of gold sneaks that helped me run from police" raps Wretch on Never Be Me.  His lyrical skills are best seen on Long Way Home, a great piece of UK hip hop that perfectly describes the odd feelings you have going home late at night, completely sober, whilst boozy Britain descends into chaos around you.

As a great storyteller, Wretch can hold down a whole album.  And whilst this is no where near as good as Tinie's Disc-Overy, it is still a good debut from a rapper that will continue to go far.  And in terms of making great rap-pop songs, Wretch can hold his own with the best of them, as seen on the smash-hit Unorthodox.  

Choons to Download: Sane's the New Mad, Don't Go, Long Way Home, Traktor

4. Chase & Status - No More Idols

If you spoke to many music journalists this year, one would have thought that good British dubstep and drum n bass only came out in 2011.  Acts like Nero and Magnetic Man were producing songs for major US artists and were even charting quite highly in the UK.  Part of this drum n bass revival was spearheaded by the duo Chase & Status, who used their second album to appeal to commercially minded drum n bass fans and release songs that were extremely radio friendly.

The result of this attempt was an eclectic album in No More Idols.  In terms of genres, the duo mixed with everything from trance and grime to hip hop and dubstep with features from the UK's finest in Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal and Plan B.

On the fantastic Hitz, we have Tinie spitting one of his best verses of the year, doing what he does best, by boasting his way through 16 bars ("The only thing that's bigger, quicker, slicker, more black and more upper London is a taxi").  Old mate Plan B appears on the rock inspired Fool Yourself, which is great music to run to in the gym, whilst Tempa T has everyone gassed when he starts spitting on Hypest Hype, a track which must mix several musical genres in the space of three minutes.  It's fast, it's crazy and it's pure hype at it's best.

Stand out track is Blind Faith, which brings back memories of 1990s raves.  It pretty much sums up what this album is all out: big beats, memorable melodies and music that you can dance to.  At 15 songs, the album is a bit long, but it is a great advertisement for where UK dance music is in 2011.

Choons to download: Blind Faith, Hypest Hype, Hitz, Let You Go

3. Ed Sheeran - + (Plus) 

Ed Sheeran's rise to the top of the charts is nothing short of phenomenal.  After creating an internet buzz with a live performance on SBTV, and gaining many followers through his cheeky and chirpy tweets, Sheeran became the industry's favourite artist and his first album, +, was one of the most anticipated albums from a UK singer for a long while.  That is not to say that he has not worked hard for this: playing 300 gigs in one year, whilst sleeping on friend's sofas, gives the Norfolk lad a bit of credibility when he attacks the perils of the record industry.

And he manages to do that quite a bit on this album.  On You Need Me, he boasts of how he "don't need another wordsmith to make my tunes sell" even though he did not go to Brit School.  The song is practically two fingers up at the many labels that had turned him down years before he became a hit.

On the brilliant A-Team, Sheeran tells the story of a young drug-addicted prostitute.  That a song about this subject matter could make it into the top ten, and then stay there for three months, is an indication of Sheeran's talent in formulating a melody.  You get the same melodic vibe on Drunk and on The City, a song whose foundations lie in the 1990s R&B sounds of KC and JoJo and Next.

Although some critics were underwhelmed by +, in part due to the lack of rapping that endeared many people to Sheeran in the first place, + is a mature debut album that firmly plants the singer as one of the biggest songwriters in the UK at the moment.  Beating this album will take some doing, but if anyone can do it, the hard-working youngster can.

Choons to download: Drunk, The A-Team, You Need Me, Lego House

2. Chipmunk - Transition

There was a moment in time when Chipmunk was the brightest and hardest thing to be coming out of the UK grime scene.  Who remembers that freestyle on Westwood, or the Who Are You where Mr Munk boasts about how he is "the grime scene saviour".  Well, we all believed him.  That is, until he released a song called Oopsy Daisy and became a bubble-gum rapper that was more suited to spitting rhymes for 12 year old girls.  All this meant that, when it was announced that the Tottenham born rapper would be releasing his second album in 2011, The Urbanite did not care too much.

Maybe for this reason, Chipmunk decided to name this album Transition: a movement, perhaps, away from the poppy sounds of his first album and towards a more mature, harder sound.  Because that is essentially what we get from the rapper on this album from start to finish.  Transition is a great opener, and has the rapper on fine form - telling us that he has finally become an adult ("Made a transition from a brain into a man").

Although his lyrics are more mature on this album, it is the guest appearances that really bring his rhymes to life and make this album what it is.  Take Off features Trey Songz, and is a brilliantly produced number that has the young rapper breaking up with a girl due to the pressures of fame.  In the Air features the beautiful Keri Hilson and contains some of the best lyrics and one-liners on the album ("Never touched the rock but they smell what I'm cooking, I did it without looking while they couldn't get a look in").  The same goes with Every Gyal, featuring Movado, which is a banger and always gets people on the dancefloor when it comes on in the club.

Of all the features, however, Chris Brown steals the show on Champion, which was understandably a chart smash.  One could even argue that Brown's rap verse beats both of Chipmunk's.  Either way, the song is a great example of the type of pop-rap that Chipmunk should have been making from the start and goes a long way to making up for the failures of his first album.

Choons to download: Every Gyal, Take Off, Champion, Transition 

See all nominations here: Winners will be revealed on 31st December. 

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