And so the UK hip hop movement continues to gather pace. Rounding off the recent spate of big releases, another commercial success – this time, courtesy of Professor Green. To put his “success” in perspective, the week “Alive Till I’m Dead” entered the chart at number two, it was sandwiched by Plan B’s album (reviewed a few weeks ago), and beaten to the top spot by the artist to whom Stephen Manderson is constantly compared to: Eminem. Yes, the UK Album Charts had a trio of white rappers at the summit. A quirk of fate, or a pointer to a growing trend? Well, Plan B seems more interested in singing and acting now, considering “The Defamation of Strickland Banks” contained precious little rapping, but Professor Green has finally come good. The stars have aligned, and he has grabbed his chance – an opportunity that he has been waiting for patiently – with both hands.
The easiest – and, admittedly, laziest – way to describe his first proper major label LP is that it is simply Professor Green redoing Chipmunk’s “I Am Chipmunk.” On first impressions, at least, it is basically an identikit formula – a depressing realisation, simply due to the commercial success of both efforts, meaning that every fucking album is going to be formatted like this for the next 2 years. Yet, “I Am Chipmunk” was actually a very enjoyable listen and sold ever so handsomely. Professor Green’s team have refined it and added a key missing ingredient: a bit of substance. Where IAC had pop hits combined with more street offerings, consistently balanced throughout, my review noted that any semblance of Chipmunk’s personality had been steamrolled by his savvy record label and the result was “plain.” Well, although Prof Green’s ATID feels similar, at least he spits lyrics and flow that occasionally impress, captivate and hint at a bright future.
I say “occasionally” because, willingly or not, Green has had to play the game – give over his album to a clever team that have, essentially, engineered a product based on market research as opposed to artistic vision (at least, this is how it feels). However, whereas Chipmunk just fit in on those songs, Green takes most of them over. He knows when to get the hell out of the way, sure, especially on the two massive hit singles – although his lyrics on “I Need You Tonight” are, by his standards, embarrassing, and his flow on “Just Be Good To Green” could have made much more of the sample (Bad Boy Puffy ’97 era flashback, whoa…). But he more than makes up for it on brilliant tracks like “Oh My God” featuring man of the moment, Labrinth; “Kids That Love To Dance” opens the album well, inspiring the first freshly-baked batch of Eminem comparisons.
What doesn’t sit quite as well are his lyrics on the uber-commercial numbers, such as “Monster” – undoubtedly supposed to be his funny celebrity-lampooning “My Name Is…” moment, it falls flat because Green is now friends with the Lott of them. Yet, you have more challenging songs such as “City of Gold” where he kicks complex shape-shifting flows that take multiple listens to soak up; “Jungle” is his bizarre but bash-your-head effective grime ode to Hackney via the Dirty South; “Do For You” is more like reading his Twitter feed, interspersed with a strangely alluring chorus. Nearing the end of ATID, “Falling Down” finds Green in creative, playful mood, even if the music lets him down, whilst he solely sings on the menacing “Closing the Door” and does “21 Questions” on “Where Do We Go” – again, slightly lacking musically, but he holds it down surprisingly well, dovetailing well with a simple chorus from the gorgeous Shereen Shabana.
What we have here is a talented, charismatic rapper being (as usual) forced to rein in his natural instincts, but admirably fighting to include at least SOME artistic merit, mainly through occasionally thrilling flows/lyrics (e.g. “Goodnight” and “City of Gold”) to counterbalance the ultra-commercial efforts. Occasionally, perfect synchronicity is achieved – “Oh My God” is one of the tracks of the year thus far. Yet, many fans that have known of Professor Green for years (myself included) have every right to yearn for more like the iTunes bonus track “Crying Game” featuring former boss Mike Skinner (otherwise known as The Streets), a song that finds both artists ripping the shit out of a threatening instrumental. Green’s flow, combining intricate and captivating wordplay, is arguably better than anything else on the album, and his Virgin bosses should trust in their prized asset a bit more next time round – he has proved that he can cross over with a couple of big samples, yet he is so much more than that. Whilst this is a competent debut, and it is mission accomplished in introducing him to the general public, Green must be allowed to let his inner talent shine through. Otherwise, what’s the point? You could pick any MC selling his shit outside Nike Town, chuck him on an INXS sample, and watch the money pile in. None of them would have the spark that Professor Green possesses, and you just hope he has enough fight in him to eventually wrestle creative control back into his own hands.