Surya Sen – ‘At What Cost?’ review: a bold, cheeky voice like few others

The Bengali-British producer's debut mixtape is at once a chaotic love-letter to London's club scene, and a reflection on his South Asian heritage

Bengali-British rapper Surya Sen has always wanted to break the mould. He decided to take music seriously because, as he recently told NME, “I didn’t think there was anyone like me” making these kinds of tunes, “especially in Asian culture, there’s a big stigma about raving.” His debut mixtape, ‘At What Cost?’, amalgamates breakneck house-heavy beats with socio-political commentary, to create a deeply infectious project which is gratifyingly hard to categorise.

In its early stages, ‘At What Cost?’ reads as a love-letter to London’s nightlife scene. Snippets of TFL (Transport for London) announcements weave themselves into the fabric of the mixtape, shepherding the listener along, while vibrant voice notes and skits precede the thematic passages of the tape. It’s not the most original of premises, but it skillfully captures the excitement before a night out, while speaking to the need to earn money to spend on these nights: “Bag your product and sell it / Bag your product and sell it / You got to earn It”, Sen repeatedly spits over a blend of bass-heavy four-to-the-floor beats on ‘Earn It’.

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But Sen has seen the city’s best parts erased away over the last decade, and he touches on the capital’s rocky nightlife scene, the financialization of the UK, and how working-class communities are being priced out by capitalist greed. He manages to do this without necessarily leaning on the foibles of conscious rap. Instead, his beats bounce with drunken, infectious bravado.

In this second half, Sen delves into the current issues plaguing South Asians in modern-day Britain. It speaks on the gentrification of Brick Lane, the marketisation of South Asian spaces and how the conflation of identity – of being termed under one umbrella – is harmful to a new generation. Stand-out track ‘Buccho Ni Ba Bhai’ is based on the 1978 murder of textile worker Altab Ali in a racially-motivated attack, which led to widespread protests and the recognition to improve the rights of Bangladeshi immigrants in east London. “1978 / We’ve been healing / Yeah I’ll do this for free / For the long term riches / For my bros and me / Buccho ni ba bhai (do you understand my brother?)” Sen asks.

The deftness with which he balances the desire to reclaim the city’s nightlife scene, while speaking to the history of colonialism and the effects it has on South Asians today is remarkable; this is one of strongest and most versatile mixtapes to arrive out of London in the last few years.

Details

Surya Sen At What Cost?

  • Release date: April 29
  • Record label: Loaded Records
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