For those wondering what 2019 is going to be like, based on the first month, the answer is “Probably shit.” Global warming, Brexit, the continued existence of Soundcloud rap, none of it suggests this year will be a one to remember. However, it’s not all bad news. For instance, Skrabl is back and he’s as angry as ever!
Following on from 2016’s The Emperor’s New Garms, the Southend emcee has honed his already razor-sharp delivery to an even finer point. On Wood for the Trees, Skrabl stakes his claim as one of the leading voices in the scene today, and God help anyone who tries to disagree.
The title track snarls like a pitbull pumped up on cans of Monster Energy and Tory blood. You can imagine Guy Richie featuring it in a scene as an audio shorthand for ‘urban’. But, unlike the fake cockney director, Skrabl doesn’t bother with gangster posturing. ‘I Can’t Take It’, for instance, delivers a frank assessment of the rappers mental health struggles without lapsing into self-pity or feel-good cliches.
Even putting aside the lyrical wit on show here, Wood for the Trees is a further step up for the rapper. ‘Skrooz Loose’ is a fucking masterclass in delivery, while ‘101 Gun Salute’ could be a test study in breath control. To be honest, you could say this for pretty much every track on the album. From spinning verbal rings around the grime-tinged instrumentals of ‘Move Back’ to dropping anthemic hooks on ‘T.F.K.B’, Skrabs has more solid gold bars than a Swiss bank.
Production comes courtesy of longtime collaborator Oozhe. The Troll Gang sibling delivers a note-perfect blend of classic boom-bap beats and contemporary grime and trap. It speaks volumes that Skrabs can traverse the different soundscapes and still make every track his own. Or, at least, it is until you realise his versatility is one of the key reasons he’s recognised as a legit veteran of the scene.
You can see why Wordplay Records chose to launch their label with Wood for the Trees – it’s the epitome of top-tier hip hop. We might only be one month into the year, but Skrabl has set a new high bar for everything to come. Maybe 2019 won’t be so bad after all.
Wood for the Trees is out now on Wordplay Records.
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Author: Ben Graham