‘I’ll spit my truth and it’s brown,” Riz Ahmed viciously growls on his latest solo album, ‘The Long Goodbye’. It epitomises the thematic content of a weighted 15-track project that largely stays afloat due to Riz’s incisive lyrics and the album’s important political content.
An actor known primarily for movies such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Four Lions and an award-winning performance in the TV show The Night Of, Ahmed’s penchant for rapping is often unfairly overlooked. For those unfamiliar with his work, ‘The Long Goodbye’ serves as a fine introduction to the Hollywood star’s beguiling side hustle.
There’s a loose concept to the album: Britain is represented by Britney, a woman who’s broken Ahmed’s heart. Set against a backdrop of today’s chaotic Britain – Brexit, a majority Tory government, creeping right-wing nationalism that alienates minorities around the country – the album is largely a vital statement from a talented, multi-hyphenate artist.
There is an earnest urgency to Ahmed’s rhymes. He aims to tackle colonisation, indentured labour, the early days of the British Raj, racism and xenophobia, tying it all within the context of being brown in Britain today. Riz’s pointed lyrics are barbed wires with which he scales topics. On the album’s opening track ‘The Breakup (Shikwa)’ he raps, “Kept me hungry / took my industry and independence from me / Took my dough and my money / Pretending it was all to help me. ‘The Long Goodbye’ sees him replaced usual charisma with vitriol.
Apart from a rare appearance from Jay Sean on the sprightly, pop-saturated ‘Any Day’, Ahmed goes solo here. ‘Toba Tek Singh’ is frenzied and chaotic; ‘Can I Live’ is deliberate and thoughtful; while ‘Fast Lava’ and ‘Mogambo’ are evidence that the actor can rap, too.
Considering the scale of what Riz is attempting, it was perhaps unwise to include short, comedic voicemails from famous friends. Television personalities and movie stars Mindy Kaling, Mahershala Ali, Asim Chaudhury and Hasan Minhaj operate as a support system, but it comes across as a flex. The voicemails may break up the album, but it takes away from the heavy subject matter.
The album is complemented by production from frequent collaborator Redinho, who worked with Ahmed on their hip-hop group Swet Shop Boys, releasing the acclaimed album ‘Cashmere’ in 2016. The high-tempo, energetic sounds throughout match Ahmed’s razor-sharp lyrics and fast-paced rhymes. The use of South Asian instrumentation – especially the Qawwali harmonies – grounds the production.
It takes an unconventional approach, but the ‘The Long Goodbye’ manages to distill complex topics with fervour. Accompanied by a short film of the same name, the project’s underlying fury a rallying cry against the growing racism facing people of colour.
Release date: March 6
Record label: Mongrel