Cadet – ‘The Rated Legend’ review: a bittersweet posthumous release from a UK rap superstar

Blaine Johnson, who died tragically last year, was acclaimed by peers such as Stormzy and Stefflon Don – and this debut album proves why

He called himself an ‘underrated legend’, and south London’s Cadet – born Blaine Cameron Johnson – was always in tune with his God-given gift for rapping. The wordsmith, who honed his talents with his cousin Krept (of Krept and Konan fame) and his crew Gipset, was a cult hero commended for his out-of-the-box verses, which touched upon topics often swept under the rug.

Opening the eyes of his young fans to toxic masculinity and heartache, all from an honest male perspective, Johnson was an important voice in the UK. He was acclaimed by the likes of Stormzy and Stefflon Don – a rappers’ rapper, perhaps. And with every promoter, label and artist hollering at the budding star, 2019 was destined to be Johnson’s year. Tragically, though, he was the victim of a fatal car accident earlier in February that year. He was just 28 years old.

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Gaining buzz from his dubiously titled yet important freestyle ‘Slut’ – he claimed not to use the term in a derogative sense because “guys can be sluts” too – Cadet had rap purists around the UK excited about his lyricism. ‘Slut’ is a witty tale of Cadet’s promiscuous way: “I had one message I’d copy and paste to every girl that’s on Bebo”. From his viral hit ‘Advice’, a collaboration with 17-years-old Londoner and teen heartthrob Deno Driz, he gripped fans with his wisecracks (“Got a ting older than me, calling me Daddy”) . Cadet was putting out one great hit after another with addictive afro-fusion tracks such as the club-friendly ‘Pumpy’ and ‘Trendy’, showing off his true star appeal.

Yet we were robbed of that star appeal on the morning of February 19 (Johnson died at the scene of the crash during an Uber ride to a performance at Keele University). ‘The Rated Legend’ is Cadet’s debut album, as well as his first posthumous release, and it’s a fitting showcase of his incredible talent. He released two EPs – 2016’s ‘The Commitment’ and 2017’s ‘The Commitment 2’ – before his passing, but this is only big body of work from the Clapham rapper.

Krept, who executively produced the record, has roped in the likes of Young Adz (of D Block Europe) and Wretch 32, and even lays a verse on ‘Dope Boy’. ‘Roley’, a duet with south London singer Swarmz, is a highlight: tapping into that groovy side of afroswing, the duo weave a sunny track that’s perfect for any party after quarantine. It’s similar to ‘Advice’ in pairing Cadet’s imaginative wordplay (“And we got bread / Schooling these n****s like Ofsted”) with a catchy hook. Here’s hoping that ‘Roley’ is one for the charts.

Want something with a little more grit? Try ‘Trust Em’, an honest account of the average man losing faith in love. It’s a painful account of an inability to trust, laying bare male insecurity: “I’m turning into your average guy, I’m losing faith in female kind / God please send me a good one…”. It’s an eye-opening track; Cadet, unafraid to be seen as emasculated, proves that there’s strength in being vulnerable.

‘The Conversation‘, which appears towards the end of ‘The Rated Legend’, is similarly thought-provoking. Recorded after the rapper’s death, it sees spoken-word artist Telixia Inico address the young son and loyal fans Johnson left behind. It’s painful to consider the star Cadet could have been, but this bittersweet debut shows off the meticulous talents of one of south London’s most successful underdogs, who was always unafraid to speak his mind.

Wretch 32 signs off the shimmering ‘Still’ with a beautiful summary of Cadet’s significance: “My brother, you’re not an underrated legend / But forever rated under the legend list”. It’s hard to come away from ‘The Rated Legend’ with any other conclusion.

Details

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Release date: April 10

Record label: Underrated Legends

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