When I think about my favorite rappers, there is generally one adjective that accurately articulates why they are superior to their peers – eloquence. The very definition of the word (via dictionary.com) is “the practice or art of using language with fluency and aptness“. This is the very essence of rap, and whether it’s Nas, Elzhi, or Black Thought, that ability to be eloquent, coupled with an ability to enunciate with sniper-like accuracy, explains why even lesser-known emcees still give me that feeling when they deliver a verse. The same applies in the UK, and Cappo is a brilliant example of how effective eloquence can be when applied to all sorts of production.
Often regarded as a rapper’s rapper that’s frequently overlooked outside of the most informed hip-hop fans, Cappo is a legend in the UK hip-hop scene. His debut LP “Spaz the World” from 2003 is an underground classic, and countless EPs and LPs have arrived since that flirt with greatness. Hell, he even made an album that felt laser-targeted at me – 2018’s “Postmodernism” with Cyrus Malachi. It’s not to everybody’s tastes, but it’s some of the finest rapping (and writing) I heard that year, and outside of some tracks here and there, Cappo now returns in 2024 with “Canon”. Fully produced by Hong Kong’s Kong the Artisan, this album operates on a different level, at least musically. Cappo’s previous material is usually the traditional UK hip-hop aesthetic. Not only does this sound varied, it feels more mature in terms of the execution. Maybe it’s the use of real instruments or a better engineer, but it has a more professional audio quality. This growth in Cappo shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering he has spent a number of years completing a PhD dedicated to studying rap techniques and literary devices, and how they are used by rappers to convey personal trauma. There aren’t many rappers out there with a doctorate.
Although many of the beats are designed to crack your skull with the vicious force of a blunt object, the rhymes remain sharp, astutely written, and delivered with a healthy blend of relatability. These aren’t academic theories, nor are they soaked in complex ‘battle rap’ wordplay – Cappo has always possessed a digestible, natural style that offers depth, rewarded by repeated listens. His working-class background, namely his accent, is on full display, and rhymes are allowed to drift in and out of the often rigid structure of regular sixteen-bar verses listeners, and emcees, have grown accustomed to.
The words are the focus, with videos largely consisting of Cappo in plain clothes and ordinary settings, delivering his experiences without being overly verbose. The track “Midz” alongside Juga-naut and Vandal Savage utilizes Cappo’s voice nicely to get a strong hook going, and “Houdini” does something similar. More somber moments ensure “Canon” isn’t overloaded with brain bruisers. “Pain” is merely a piano accompanying the rhymes, showcasing a spoken-word quality:
“Pain is a constant but it don’t define me
I refuse to let it shape me, I am open-minded
Instead I choose to use this language like an open library
Treat the pain like it’s my shadow, let it float beside me
Use the pain like it’s a frame that only I can see through”
“Early” is smooth, hopeful piano prods coupled with soul singer Liam Bailey, as the Notts emcee contemplates his place and position in society, with reflection a common trait in anyone his age, but being careful “to live for more than just nostalgia”. Children of Zeus bless “Let It Take You” (well, Konny Kon specifically) with Kong the Artisan building in that warm soulful feel which isn’t something I expected to work. Cappo is renowned for his direct, no-nonsense attacks on the mic, particularly over tough beats, so it’s great to hear this extra versatility seeping into his work. The guests are largely from Nottingham too, and none outdo veteran Scorzayzee as he shares plenty of one-liners to get you thinking on “Difference”:
“Time to wake up and smell the dahlias
No alien to failure, but imagine having all of your achievements under an alias
It took me years to have crystal clear clarity
My point of singularity was to fill the void gradually
The black hole in my soul swallowed my gravity
I guess I’m in a superposition, pick a reality
I figure-skate in a figure-eight around the galaxy
To understand the meaning of life and mortality
If I’m speaking in riddles, then meet me in the middle
I can give it you in capital letters or little scribbles
I’ve got more now to give than I’ve got to gain
It’s sad that happiness was a chemical inside of my brain
Every now and then I grab the pen and flush the mud out
Feeling like the only sane man inside the nuthouse
Quietly watching like a sub sat in the dugout
But sometimes it’s best for the lions to let the cubs out”
“Me, Myself and Irene” is a certified rib rattler littered with messages of self-belief and faith in one’s abilities, assisted by a catchy hook. I’m surprised it’s not a single, to be honest. “Yardbird” is another gem, teasing the listener with booming bass; I have to give it up to Kong the Artisan as he constantly impresses throughout the album. The production here is just the perfect accompaniment to Cappo’s style.
Pretty much every song is four minutes long, so there are a couple of songs I’d shorten, but otherwise, this has been on repeat since the end of last year. Originally released as three EPs (“Pain”, “Escapism” and “Absolution”), and making their way to streaming services in January, “Canon” confirms Cappo’s place at the head of the table. He’s in his fourth decade as a rhymer, and this is his best work, simply for how it showcases an emcee continuing to grow after spitting thousands of bars. Every line feels calculated and hand-written. Much like the research degree he’s undertaken, Cappo’s crafted an album that could be studied and cited in years to come.