Having originated from the East London pirate radio station circuit, the previously underground grime scene appears to have recently abandoned its roots in an effort to unashamedly chase mainstream recognition. The genre's pioneering Dizzee Rascal turned to disco for his chart-topper "Dance wiv Me," Tinchy Stryder teamed up with a Sugababe for his number one hit "Never Leave You," and controversial trio N-Dubz's Against All Odds album features a song written by the distinctly non-"street" Gary Barlow. Chipmunk, aka 18-year-old Jahmaal Fyffe, a former high-school freestyler and protégé of Wiley, is the latest MC to make the transition from Rinse FM to the Radio 1 playlist. Having won the Best Newcomer at the 2008 MOBO Awards before he'd even released a single, there's already a weighty level of expectation placed on his young shoulders, but seemingly unfazed by the pressure, his debut album, I Am Chipmunk, is unlikely to disappoint. Largely produced by emerging urban duo Kyle James and Pete Parker, its opening track, "Saviour," and finale, "Business," may contain the kind of harsh beats, dirty basslines, and rapid lyrical delivery found on his previous four mixtapes, but they are only bookends to an album more concerned with a genre-hopping, hook-laden, and highly polished sound that tackles everything from staccato synth-led R&B ("Lose My Life") to autobiographical smooth soul ("Dear Family") and Run-D.M.C.-influenced rock-rap hybrids (debut single "Chip Diddy Chip"). Featuring an array of guest artists, I Am Chipmunk is indeed at its strongest when Chipmunk has someone to bounce off. "Diamond Rings" is a convincing attempt at smoky jazz-fused hip-hop, featuring a Billie Holiday-esque turn from rising star Emeli Sandé; soul vocalist Dayo Olatunji lends her tones to number one single "Oopsy Daisy," a surprisingly melancholic piano-led tale of heartbreak that provides a welcome antidote to the tedious macho posturings of his counterparts; and the infectious Talay Riley-guesting "Look for Me" echoes the hypnotic synth riffs of Black Eyed Peas' party anthem "I Gotta Feeling." Despite some expletive-laden lyrics in "Man Dem" and "Beast," Chipmunk never feels particularly menacing, his youthful presence making it hard to shake the feeling that you're listening to someone's younger brother trying to compete with the big boys. But while it may not be the most authentic and uncompromising example of the grime genre, it's an impressively confident debut album that promises -- at the very least -- a fruitful pop career ahead.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien