Capping off the recent slew of prominent UK hip hop releases, N-Dubz serve up their long-awaited debut, “Uncle B.” Named after their deceased uncle, Byron Contostavlos – who was a former member of Munjo Jerry (“I come from the land down under…”) – the album finds them paying tribute to their former manager. More significantly, he was the father of lead rapper Dappy, and an uncle to songstress Tulisa – two out of the three members of the group. The final, and somewhat grittier vocalist is Fazer – and the aim of the trio is chart domination, achieved through a combination of slick production, dirty lyrics and pure pop choruses. The good news is that this is probably the most accomplished and downright confident UK hip hop release in the last two years – including The Streets, Sway, Kano et al.
What astounds more than anything is just how POLISHED an outfit they are, especially considering how young they are, not to mention that this is their official debut. Pretty much everything has been taken care of in-house: the production, song-writing, even the videos. This obviously has benefits, as they seem to have retained control of virtually everything – perhaps leading to their eventual parting of ways with Polydor Records. They relocated to a new label this summer, and, after about six single releases thus far, finally drop the album.
If you are having trouble imagining N-Dubz, imagine a younger (and MUCH dirtier) version of the Black Eyed Peas. You have two rappers, one of whom sings a lot, and a single white female taking care of choruses and a few verses. It also helps to know that they have cemented their burgeoning reputation through a hugely successful series of gigs at schools – and most of the material here is aimed squarely at anyone that qualifies as a teenager. Whilst this means that they occasionally veer into rather immature subject matter, we normally find them fresh and bursting with youthful vigour.
It helps that N-Dubz are honest about their intentions – creating pop songs that have urban sensibilities, as opposed to straight up grime or hip hop. The production is slick throughout, and, whilst far from groundbreaking, it sounds perfectly engineered and radio-ready. It is difficult to even pigeonhole the “N-Dubz sound” simply because it isn’t hip hop, R&B or anything really – more street pop. It is definitely, however, consistent throughout, and makes for fantastic background listening. It does betray their major label roots, and more than anything, it helps to cement the suspicion that this is group of youngsters that are intent on breaking the charts – by any means necessary – rather than creating legendary music.
That theory is lent further credence when going through the subject matter – cheating partners, repping your endz, sex, more cheating partners… Basically the film “Kidulthood” on Viagra. There are, however, a few cattle that manage to flee to more interesting water-holes, such as “N-Dubz vs. NAA,” on which they sound the call for UK artists to collaborate and make money together – as opposed to the usual crabs in a bucket shit that goes on in UK hip hop (whereas Grime artists work together much more effectively).”Defeat You” features the rising star of the Grime circuit, Chipmunk – who, at sixteen or so, is pretty damn awesome and riding high, fresh from his MOBO awards “Best Newcomer” win.
All in all, N-Dubz have coughed up an impressive debut that has been a long time coming. This isn’t a hardcore Grime or classic hip hop release – it is pop music with urban twists all over. It isn’t full of classic singles, but as an album it flows together seamlessly and certainly represents a step-up for UK Hip Pop. It will be very interesting to see how well “Uncle B” sells this week, as it should – judging by their fervent support – potentially break the Top 10. That may be rather difficult to achieve, considering there isn’t a song on here that has pierced the higher echelons of the singles charts. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t be judged a failure, more a real and true stepping stone for a hard-working young group that should eventually realise their dream of world domination. I see no reason why they won’t win out, and would be fascinated to hear what an American teenager would make of “Uncle B” – one suspects they would love it.