The name ‘Rapman’ conjures thoughts of his magnificent storytelling skills. Through the success of his YouTube trilogy ‘Shiro’s Story’ , the filmmaker and rapper (real name Andrew Onwubolu) has captivated millions of UK fans enamoured with his raw and authentic representations of south London’s concrete jungle.
And so there’s a narrative bent to this record, which accompanies his new semi-autobiographical feature film, Blue Story. The movie tells the tale of two childhood friends divided by gang warfare (in real life the artist and his brother attended schools in different postcodes), a premise the record loosely takes up too.
They don’t call him Rapman for nothing, and so ‘True Blue Story’ sets the tone of the tunes that follow. He rips into a tale about his move from Deptford to “a school in Camberwell, next to the ‘narm” and the complications of repping his ends in oppositional territory. This backstory gives the compilation extra authenticity, the track heightening our empathy for the stories within.
He brings in talent old and new, and there’s no shortage of drill stars. Digga D, in particular, stands out on the sadistically good fun ‘Rolling”. Singing the chorus in a West Indian accent offset by the nonchalant delivery of his bars, he represents the youth caught up in a mess: their sense of invincibility makes them seem delusional, yet they have to be this way in order to survive. “I want a big gun,” he raps, “I want to load it, load it / I want to live long, yeah, that’s how we rolling, rolling”.
The record tells of struggle, hardship and survival. Whether that’s from Raye‘s heartfelt cry of frustration on the gritty ‘South East London’, or the menacing persona through which Giggs delivers ‘Dark Was The Case’, you get the same stories from different perspectives. Giggs’s overzealous talk about being a veteran not only in rap, but also the streets, echoes the attitudes Digga D conveys. But with age comes experience, and Giggs offers a stark warning amid the braggadocio: “These little n****s need to take all the shine / This street life, yeah, they wasting their time”.
Representing the heavy West Indian culture in London, the album’s reggae influences add a mellow vibe to the album. After the massive worldwide celebration around his release from prison last December, dancehall legend Buju Banton delivers a positive anthem as he tells everyone to “bring it on” on, erm, ‘Bring It On’.
Yet to balance this overly charged ragga track, West Midlands hero Jorja Smith croons her way through the calming reggae track ‘Make it Right’. Jamming out with a bass guitar, Smith sings about her need for resolution, emulating many who want to tie up problems in their lives. “I’ve got to make it right“, she sings, bringing the compilation to a hopeful end. Although there may be the harsh reality to gang life, at least we can seek better days.
Full of testimonies about pain and survival, this Blue Story soundtrack perfectly supports the movie’s grimy narrative. Unapologetically British (if you excuse Buju Banton’s role), these stories piece together a true representation of a side to London that many forget about. Well, not any more.
- Release date: November 15
- Record label: Roc Nation / Polydor Records