Central Cee – ‘23’ review: drill star finds himself on the brink of greatness

The Shepherd's Bush rapper's brand of distinctive, R&B-sampling drill has been honed on this immersive second mixtape

Who, from west London, is bigger than Central Cee right now? In little over a year, the Shepherd’s Bush native has been nominated for BRIT Awards, knocked out Top 20 hits and gained millions of adoring fans over lockdown. His debut mixtape, ‘Wild West’, proved he is formidable at drill, but is he destined to become more than just a star in his own scene? Perhaps, not quite yet. His newest mixtape may not be as big of a step forward as one might hope, but if ain’t broke…

’23’ is mostly compiled of the familiar drill tunes that’ll have, in Cench’s own words, “the party tu’n”, but he proves time and time again just how witty and imaginative he can be when it comes to metaphors and his flows. Instead of telling stories of his own struggle, he uses his talents to motivate kids away from the trap. The mixtape’s penultimate track ‘Lil Bro’ packs riffing electric guitars and sees him lean on his grime training, as he tries to convince the other voice (the titular sibling, perhaps his own) that “nobody will feed you in the jungle, but you’ve gotta get fed” and that he “thought the streets were cool as a young boy, but it’s not, though, I got misled”. ‘Lil Bro’ shows off the well-roundedness of Cench, and that he can do it all, if he wants to.

Some songs have Baile funk wails (‘Retail Therapy’) and eerie R&B samples (‘Cold Shoulder’), but the most surprising sonic change in sonic is the mixtape’s middle track, ‘Mrs’. Moving away from the typical sexual frivolousness of most rappers’ rhymes, this is is a slowed-down serenade to whatever special girl was in Cench’s life at the time. With a melodic delivery, somewhere between understated rapping and soft croons, the R&drill track is the most out-of-the-box moment on the album, and it works; perhaps the success of ‘Mrs’ will indicate that there’s space and success for him to keep stepping out of his comfort zone.

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As the new face of drill music, “from Bush to Beverley Hills”, ‘23’ shows that Cench repeatedly proves his worth and as his talent continues to blossom. On his debut, Cench blew away the naysayers that thought he was a two-hit wonder, but on ‘23’ you sense he’s relishing this opportunity to have fun and simply enjoy what he’s making; the next step, providing that he continues to push himself and mix it up, could be a game-changer.

Details

central see 23 mixtape

  • Release date: February 25
  • Record label: Central Cee
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