Album Review: Envy – ‘Set Yourself On Fire’ (Stop Start)

Our rating:

hotly-tipped gobby British MC puts her money where her mouth is on her debut

It wouldn’t be strictly true to say that this is a bad time for a British MC to hope to break into the mainstream, what with a number of them landing around the peak of the singles charts recently. Once you skim off the top layer, however, it’s a different story. If you’re not [b]Dizzee[/b], [b]Wiley[/b], [b]Tinchy[/b] or – for the next 15 minutes at least – [b]Tinie Tempah[/b], chances are you’d be more of a financial success pushing a pen than trying to shift units. And even those four chart-smashers had to embrace their Yates’ Wine Lodge pop side to reach their commercial heights.

Which makes it pleasantly surprising to note that [b]Nicola Varley[/b], a Mancunian rapper in her early twenties who trades as [b]Envy[/b], is getting some serious hype swirling round her first album. In her short career to date – she started bossing rap battles in 2006, but didn’t release a record until 2008 – Varley has avoided being shoehorned into a scene. Is she grime? Is she UK hip-hop? More pointedly, does it matter? For this fine and vibrant debut to fall through the cracks due to the narcissism of small differences would be a travesty. [b]‘Set Yourself On Fire’[/b] is a smart-cookie album with winningly universal themes. Ever ogled a passing fancy through beer goggles? That’s [b]‘Friday Night’[/b]. Fallen out with a mate over some triviality before facing up to your pig-headedness? You’ve got your own [b]‘Nadine’[/b]. Pined over memories of meals in crap chain restaurants with an ex? [b]‘Cocktails In Selfridges’[/b] (“and lunch in La Tasca”) is your jam.

Frequently bursting with towerblock-tall braggadocio, our lady is still given to spots of lyrical self-doubt and a healthy ability to laugh at herself. There’s also [b]‘Put Your Game Face On’[/b], where [b]Envy[/b] does the near-obligatory run-through of her rhyming influences: from [b]Lil’ Kim[/b] to [b]Missy Elliott[/b] to [b]Ms Dynamite[/b] to the new slew of British female rappers. It might seem lazy to pluck [b]Lady Sovereign[/b] from the list but their similarities run deeper than ‘white MC girl with a trainer fetish’.

The man due praise for the album’s production is [b]Medasyn[/b], who made those early Sov singles such grime-pop tonics – and who even recycled an abandoned Sov beat for [b]‘Friday Night’[/b]. Fierce fidget-house synth fuzz ushers in the title (and opening) track; [b]‘Tongue Twister’[/b] and [b]‘Let’s Play Pretend’[/b] employ chirpy conga beats on nodding terms with UK funky, while [b]‘Sometimes I Think About Pt 2’[/b] whomps you with dubstep bass to worthy effect.

What few cringeworthy moments there are – [b]‘Lullaby’[/b] suggests that angrily railing against haters isn’t her best look, and “Look what happened to Stephen Lawrence, it’s horrible innit?” is a listen-through-your-fingers moment – are suppressed by the myriad highlights. [b]Envy[/b] may soon be living up to her name in the UK rap world.

[b]Noel Gardner[/b]

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