Clavish – ‘Rap Game Awful’ review: UK rap’s next megastar has arrived

Fearless and incisive, the north London artist's debut mixtape offers unsparing social commentary in rich, searing detail

2022 was a big year for Clavish. The north London rapper’s steady rise – since surfacing online in a 2018 freestyle – gained serious momentum, propelled by a series of singles that showcased his collection of calm, yet deadly flows. His refusal to give interviews has only increased fan intrigue, while his increasingly polished output can be seen in the typically slick visuals assigned to tracks like ‘Greece’ and the smooth mic work that saw him nominated for GRM Rated Awards’ Breakthrough Artist of the Year.

His debut mixtape ‘Rap Game Awful’ has been a long time coming for many fans. A brief glance at the tracklist suggests the 23-year-old has also been gearing up for the drop for a while. On a 28-track colossus of a mixtape, Clavish peppers an eclectic range of beats with clear, cutting, confessional verses, squeezing new tracks between huge singles like the D-Block Europe collab ‘Rocket Science’ (which charted at #9 in the UK last November) and the darkly enticing drill single ‘Public Figure’.

Delving eagerly into various sub-genres including road rap and trap, Clavish’s consistency comes from a measured delivery that’s rare amongst MCs of his age. Another connecting thread across the tape is a lingering sense of darkness; his stories of prison, gang crime, and betrayal are given an extra bite by ominous, yet stripped-back instrumentals that offer Clavish space to bar and echo the murkiness of early drill heavyweights like 67 and Harlem Spartans.

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Unsurprisingly, the best moments on ‘Rap Game Awful’ come from the breakout singles that helped put Clavish on the map. On ‘Greece’, he speaks powerfully about past crimes, spitting “No I ain’t got amnesia / I ain’t forgot what happened on G-wing / I don’t wanna hear ‘intent to supply’”. Meanwhile, ‘NRF Freestyle’ bristles with the kind of energetic bars that dominate classic contemporary freestyles like Fredo‘s ‘Independence Day’. Fittingly, the fellow Londoner is one of several big-names that feature on the mixtape. On ‘Monday to Sunday’, Fredo adds his smooth flows to a tribute to grind, hustle, and sacrifice built around incisive lyrics: “You’d commit the same crimes if you grew up how we were living”.

The star-studded nature of this debut mixtape is testament to Clavish’s stature within the game. Ultimately, the project’s main drawback is that at 28 tracks – it’s simply too long. The impact of the powerful stories told across this tape would’ve been boosted by some ruthless edits, perhaps cutting down the slightly dawdling mid-section before ‘Mariah Carey’, a track guided by gliding pads and haunting choral samples.

Yet the powerful sense of emotion echoed across ‘Rap Game Awful’ is what makes the mixtape so memorable; Clavish narrates his story against a backdrop of deep subs, eerie synth melodies, and dark ambience that allow his bars to cut through with a real sharpness. If he learns to refine his output a little, there’s no reason Clavish can’t achieve the levels of stardom he’s been tipped to reach.

Details

clavish rap game awful

  • Release date: January 13
  • Record label: Polydor

 

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