Sneakbo – ‘9 Lives’ review: aside from dalliances with drill, the UK rap legend doesn’t quite land on his feet

The south London rapper returns with flashes of brilliance – but there are moments where it's hard not wonder if he's simply repeating himself

Sneakbo has created plenty of classics that inspire nostalgia in UK rap fans. The 27-year-old south Londoner’s Vybz Kartel cover ‘Touch Ah Button’ has become a certified London anthem to rival Giggs’ ‘Talkin’ Da Hardest’. Sneakbo has bounced in and out of the rap scene since 2011, outliving many eras – from grime and pirate radio culture to the current drill and streaming scene. No wonder he’s called his latest record ‘9 Lives’ – especially when he’s lived so many lives himself; Agassi Odusina has been a rapper, a gang member and recently became a father.

True to his signature sound, ‘9 Lives’ is packed with afroswing tunes. On lead single ‘Love Is A Gamble’, featuring Nigeria’s Kida Kudz, Sneakbo confesses romantic feelings over a sombre and lazy R&B instrumental. But ‘Love Is A Gamble’ is only one of a slew of great afro-bashment tracks here. Sneakbo proves that he never lost his touch with the summery banger ‘The Flyest’, for which he teams up with the hottest female in afrobeats, Br3nya; the duo ride a tantalising baseline and tropical melodies like a UK rap Bonnie and Clyde. Sneakbo and Br3nya ooze confidence and braggadocio as south London’s finest remind you “When we touch down, everything shut down / ‘Cause you know we’re the flyest”.

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As well as showcasing his usual fusion sound, the Brixton icon jumps on ‘She Fell In Love’, a drill tune that relays his past life. Even with three Top 40 tracks and a Top 20 debut album (2018’s ‘Brixton’) to his name, it seems Sneakbo hasn’t forgotten his roots. And how could he? Often presented in the media as a scary gang huncho, he has always been burdened by his past criminal offences.

On ‘She Fell In Love’, where beautiful trumpets meet racing drill production, Sneakbo taps into the gang aesthetic associated with the genre, which only highlights the distance the rapper has travelled since his days of “pull[ing] up and crash[ing]”. Featuring everything you need for a good drill song (an easy-to-remember hook, zipping basslines), it proves that – all these years into his career – Sneakbo is a promising driller.

When you downshift from the top of the rap scene and become a sporadic figure in the game – randomly releasing odd tracks every other year or so – you create a sense of anticipation about your music. ‘9 Lives’ is an accomplished album, but – aside from ‘She Fell In Love’ – it’s hard to avoid the feeling that this is more of the same from Sneakbo. He’s steering ever closer to losing what made him special in the first place – let’s hope ‘9 Lives’ isn’t proof that Sneakbo is clinging onto his last one.

Details:

Release date: April 24

Record label: Island Records

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