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Album Review: Envy - 'Set Yourself On Fire' (Stop Start)

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

Album Review: Envy - 'Set Yourself On Fire' (Stop Start)

7 / 10 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 Dizzee, Wiley, Tinchy or – for the next 15 minutes at least – Tinie Tempah, 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 Nicola Varley, a Mancunian rapper in her early twenties who trades as Envy, 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. ‘Set Yourself On Fire’ is a smart-cookie album with winningly universal themes. Ever ogled a passing fancy through beer goggles? That’s ‘Friday Night’. Fallen out with a mate over some triviality before facing up to your pig-headedness? You’ve got your own ‘Nadine’. Pined over memories of meals in crap chain restaurants with an ex? ‘Cocktails In Selfridges’ (“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 ‘Put Your Game Face On’, where Envy does the near-obligatory run-through of her rhyming influences: from Lil’ Kim to Missy Elliott to Ms Dynamite to the new slew of British female rappers. It might seem lazy to pluck Lady Sovereign 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 Medasyn, who made those early Sov singles such grime-pop tonics – and who even recycled an abandoned Sov beat for ‘Friday Night’. Fierce fidget-house synth fuzz ushers in the title (and opening) track; ‘Tongue Twister’ and ‘Let’s Play Pretend’ employ chirpy conga beats on nodding terms with UK funky, while ‘Sometimes I Think About Pt 2’ whomps you with dubstep bass to worthy effect.

What few cringeworthy moments there are – ‘Lullaby’ 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. Envy may soon be living up to her name in the UK rap world.

Noel Gardner

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