So far online reviews of “Let Em Ave It” speak mostly in favor of Giggs’ full-length, several of them commenting on his situation as a UK street rapper in an increasingly commercialized scene, not failing to mention that he is up against odds his US counterparts usually don’t face. SoulCulture.co.uk notes: ‘Hip Hop in America has no qualms about pushing/pimping Gangsta Rap to its mainstream – in the UK, however, it’s a different matter. Various government organisations and politicians have been vocal and proactive in their attempts to censor gratuitous music from flooding the charts – which makes for a very interesting scenario as the UK’s answer to Mobb Deep and Jeezy launches his album to the masses…’
While there might not exist a ‘gangster rap’ sub-genre in the UK as it is marketed in the US, it would be wrong to assume that UK rap is devoid of that element. But rap music from the Isles did create its identity by being different, so that when someone is advertised to me as an equivalent of an American template, that’s a major red flag, even if it’s packaged as praise: ‘It’s befuddling how long it’s taken the UK to unleash a hungry street-smart poet comparable to the genre’s US-born greats.’ (NME)
Upon first listen, Giggs didn’t strike me as a poet nor comparable to any greats. He raps over clear, powerful synth productions in a very deep, very monotone, very mechanical manner. While the musical backing should be familiar, the delivery takes some time to get accustomed to. The first impression is listening to a robot version of Rock (of Heltah Skeltah/Boot Camp Clik) speaking with a South London accent but still using plenty of phrases that have been imported through rap music made in the USA. Once the initial irritation settles, two distinct qualities emerge – Giggs is believable, meaning his performance matches his lyrics (his Hollowman alias is actually dead on), and he expertedly welds together multi-syllable rhyme structures with short, simple words.
When Giggs is at his best, he attains quite another level. Whereas rappers often, as proficient, charismatic, witty, etc. as they may be, merely recite their lyrics, Giggs can make it seem as if he actually conversates with you. The slow flow appears deliberate and any pauses seem to serve the purpose of contemplating what to say next. Inevitably forced rhymes and languid disposition aside, this renders his best raps unusually fresh and natural, to the point where I’m almost tempted to compare him to Rakim or Jay-Z (only) as far as lifelike rap performances go. But a much more apt comparison would be Houston rapper Z-Ro. While Giggs lacks Joseph McVey’s bluesman distinction, he gives off the same sober, reflective, dark aura. Getting to know Giggs means sitting down and paying attention, which makes “Let Em Ave It,” despite its mainstream rap bent, essentially an intimate experience.
The “Intro” recounts the events since the previous release “Walk in Da Park.” Several reasons account for the four-minute length, one being Giggs’ pace, but either way the intro prepares you for an equally extended album. One that takes some familiar turns, at least if you’ve tuned in to American street rap for the past twenty or so years. “Hustle On” covers contemporary slanguage supported by a fittingly dark and spooky, DJ Paul & Juicy J-inspired beat by Pablo Productions. “Get Your Money Up” is something Jeezy would feel comfortable over while “All I Know (Get Your Money Up Remix)” has a sung hook that’s halfway between Wayne and Drake. “Reminiscing” sees Giggs and guests Joe Grind and Gunna Dee trade bantering verses about shared experiences. “Matic” is the album’s gun theme, over a intimidating background that is for once more UK grime than US gangster rap. “Ner Ner” is Giggs thumbing his nose at doubters, while making the classic gangster rap argument with “Everybody knows my songs with no airplay / cause I talk about stuff they wouldn’t dare say / I’m talkin’ ’bout the cats and the crack in the stairways.”
Like many – or, let’s be honest, most – street rappers, Giggs is more about making proclamations about himself than giving a portrayal of urban life. “Life,” while suffering from an all too general, sentimental pop hook, is more detailed:
“Another day in the streets to get important pounds
Undercovers lurkin’, yeah, they walkin’ round
They were stakin’ out my little nigga Tiny Boost
I know they’re celebratin’, cause they caught him now
The prices in the drought gone up to extortion now
It’s been a hot minute since them niggas brought it down
The shit’s mad slow
Since mornin’ I’ve only brought in 40 pounds
I watch these little girls thinkin’ they’re important now
Only 15, shouldn’t thinkin’ ’bout abortions now
I heard that nigga over there just started snortin’ now
Since his nigga died he just couldn’t take the torture down
Niggas start tryina hold their sons and daughters down
I know niggas robbin’ and they damn near reached their 40s now
This the reason why I can’t let my supporters down
Peckham’s on my back, so I feel like a tortoise now”
Z-Ro is – perhaps unwillingly – clearly channelled on several tracks. Set to a syrupy beat, “The Way it Is” finds Giggs wavering between unapologetic and remorseful, explaining himself and lamenting his situation as a stigmatized artist and citizen:
“The radio ain’t layin’ down my rap tunes
call me criminal; ‘We ain’t playin’ all them rap goons’
I did my sentence, why should I be punished again?
Sometimes I feel like I have but nothin’ to gain
They want me sayin’ fuck rap, back to floodin’ the caine
and gettin’ rapped up and stay in that government place
They want me in the box callin’ the governor’s name
and then the governor calls me my government name”
Again and again you’ll hear the influence of the Rap-A-Lot school of street rap, from the confrontational “What More Do They Want” and “Bus Commercial” to peaceful offerings like the ode to his son, “Little Man & Me,” or “Up, Up & Away,” a perfect fulfillment of the weed song prototype, supplied by J Bizzy with an airy bed through which meanders a wistful melodica. Maybe the song most reminicent of the Z-Ro catalog is “Signs,” a slow-paced symphony of stutter drums and synths with lyrics that mix the personal with the political:
“I see the signs from this crooked life
Fuck my future, I know exactly what it’s lookin’ like:
me gettin’ murdered, a look in time
and tryin’ to escape got me pushin’ crime
Told them they better start gettin’ used to me
I wouldn’t be surprised if the police tried to shoot at me
See, you open up the booth for me
let me get inside and you get nothin’ but the truth from me
It’s like every other day we screamin’ ‘Rest in peace!’
Listen what I gotta say, cause the message deep
Tryina show them in these degressin’ streets
Nothin’ good’s happenin’ and that depresses me
I put it right out there, get my message pushed
Rest in peace my brother Bigs, he’s from Shepherd’s Bush
Rest in peace Ruthless, I hope my blessing’s took
It’s painful, hope I make it to the second book
They talk about gun, crack, and my reckless crooks
when it’s our own government that get the weapons pushed
You think they give a shit about Peckham’s hood?
They drive past and wouldn’t even take a second look”
“Let Em Ave It” also contains obvious crossover material, mainly the relationship tune “The Loves Still There” and the single/club song “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” whose crude wordplay and jumpy beat aren’t really representative of the album.
Witnessing all this from a distance, my key notes on Giggs are as follows. He isn’t the first British act to be influenced by the music coming across the big pond, but it’s still somewhat unsettling to imagine London youts letting terms like ‘trap’ and ‘guap’ roll off their tongues (let alone the infamous n word). Just as troubling is knowing that Giggs is affiliated with a local gang and goes as far as representing its “black flag” on the album’s single.
And yet, we’ve been there before with American rap, and when the rapper is observed by Operation Trident, a police unit that deals with gun crime in the black community, which, according to Giggs – successfully – suggested to promoters they pull his tour dates and – unsuccessfully – tried to prevent labels from signing him, there’s no reason to see Giggs in a different light than his American counterparts. Stateside he’s already been noticed, being voted Best UK Act at the 2008 BET Hip Hop Awards, although at this point that means little to anybody except Giggs, who mentions it several times during “Let Em Ave It.” An album that very often sounds all too familiar but that still persuades with individual personality and local flair.