Hyped as the best UK hip hop album this year, “Phil n’ the Dotz” is both the best and worst of UK hip hop. Knowing that Si Phili (of Phi-Life Cypher) was involved, I feared a decent if forgettable entry in the Phi Life Cypher catalog, much like what his former partner in rhyme Life has delivered over the past ten years. Unfortunately, this record lives up to low expectations despite Si Phili, now just known as Phili, outdoing his former colleagues Life and DJ Nappa by making use of far more energetic (better) production.
It’s rowdy without being obnoxious, rugged without firing off curses â€“ the same reasons why Phi Life Cypher were popular at the turn of the millennium. Phili has teamed up with Dotz, an emcee known for his battling and it’s certainly evident, with much of this album seeing the two trading verses back and forth in an effective manner.
Phili n’ Dotz have enough chemistry as a partnership to hide some of their lyrical shortcomings, relying on some suitably hardcore production to win the listener over. This doesn’t actually feel like a piece of UK hip hop, with a European vibe running throughout the record. Many of the beats have that Snowgoons-lite quality to them, but none of them are particularly standout. The standout moment comes from Leaf Dog who continues to impress, lacing “Let Ya Mind Breathe” with a downtrodden number that forces Dotz and Phili to drop some of their best verses.
The problem with “Phil n’ the Dotz” is that it falls foul to everything that’s irritating about brag-rap. Life’s best tracks off of his last few albums have been ones with concepts – “Daddy”, “Moviedrome”, “Bomb Propaganda” et al. Phili and Dotz spend so much time bigging themselves up that there is actually little proof backing up the words. Song names can’t hide this, with tracks such as “The Rhyme Assignment”, “Verbal Dissection” and “Lyrical Gun Slingers” all sounding as predictable as you’d suspect.
So how can an album be both the best and worst of UK hip hop? The hollow threats and tired rhymes unfortunately represent much of what is holding the genre back in this country, yet the way that it is delivered atop satisfyingly chunky beats means that it still sounds very good. It’s clear why this record has its fans, but also highlights how far behind the UK still is when it comes to making great hip hop albums.