Bud, Sweat & Beers

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While the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder, and Chipmunk have made a conscious effort to conquer the charts, eschewing their underground grime roots in favor of a highly commercial electro-R&B sound, 22-year-old Essex rapper James Devlin has quietly moved to the front of the pack with his refreshingly uncompromising brand of U.K. hip-hop. Indeed, his debut album, Bud Sweat and Beers, may feature an array of the urban scene's hottest producers (Naughty Boy, Labrinth), and emerging female guest vocalists (Jodie Connor, Emeli Sande), but there's barely a club-friendly synth or sample to be heard among its 14 self-penned tracks. Instead, the former O.T. Crew member's first solo offering is packed full of harsh beats, crunching rock guitars, and subtle flashes of strings that recall both the quick-fire MC skills of So Solid Crew and the socially conscious eclecticism of Plan B's debut, Who Needs Actions When You Got Words. Inevitably labeled as a young British Eminem, Bud Sweat and Beers undeniably draw parallels with the likes of The Slim Shady, thanks to its razor-sharp delivery and intense lyrical themes interspersed with inventive flashes of humor, as evident on "The World Still Turns" ("Might make your heart feel colder than Pingu"). However, Devlin's subject matter is, unsurprisingly, a little more down to earth. "Community Outcast" captures the daily struggles of council estate life against a backdrop of twinkling piano and high-pitched synth-violins; "Our Father" is an intriguing fusion of pan pipes and epic '80s rhythms which offers his philosophical perspective on religion, while "Days and Nights" is an unflinching Nas-like account of his rise to the top. Not that the album is averse to a few chart-friendly moments, either. "Runaway" is a gorgeously bittersweet tale of escape, complete with a mournful orchestral arrangement and effortlessly sweet vocals from Yasmin, the anthemic "Brainwashed" sounds like "The Exorcist Theme" given a nu-metal makeover, while the brooding basslines and melodic chorus of "Let It Go" is a convincing attempt at soulful dubstep. A welcome antidote to the "having fun in the club" pop-dance of his grime counterparts, Bud Sweat and Beers' depth-laden and genre-hopping sound marks the arrival of one of the U.K.'s most promising hip-hop talents.

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