It feels somewhat appropriate that I’m writing an article about Mancunian hip hop artist Abnormal Sleepz at 4am in the morning, having spent most of the night tossing and turning because my brain wouldn’t have the decency to silence itself for a few hours. Luckily for me, Reece Samuels has the sort of voice with the ability to heal – introducing himself with 2015’s The Meditape – his debut mixtape demonstrated both intelligent wordplay and a love for experimental production.
It’s sequel The Meditape Two is an engaging, fearless and lovingly crafted piece of work that points to an artist of serious promise. Nearly every track on The Meditape Two has a different producer, yet it still manages to retain a cohesive atmosphere throughout… and this surely isn’t by luck. Samuels has cherry-picked and surrounded himself with some of Manchester’s most exciting new talents (G.S One, HMD, Piddy Py and Two4Kay) and brought them together to form a close-knit unit. His willingness to collaborate is by no means unusual within Mancunian circles, but by consistently pushing his ideas to new places, feelings and situations – I get the impression Samuels is not going to rest on his laurels.
It would of course be brutally unfair to compare Samuels to Kendrick Lamar, but there’s enough to be found here to connect the dots together – they certainly share a similar delivery style for instance – although my love for Samuels undeniably northern English tone and dialect is endless. The Meditape Two focuses on a person’s capacity to recover, learn and grow – it’s a refreshingly positive collection of material to enjoy and unravel, reaching deep into his personal experiences. The question remains, what direction will the Sleepz project take in the future… there’s a lot of darker subject matter out there to explore, and with everything going on in the world, we need artists like Samuels to try and make some sense of it. For now though, close your eyes, relax and discover a sleeping giant.
Sometimes all you need is a spark. When Grey Collective’s Adio Marchant (Bipolar Sunshine) and Gaika started expressing a keen interest in the music of HMD, it led to an interview on Manchester’s influential underground radio station Reform Radio. As a regular listener of late night show ‘The Witching Hour’; I was immediately drawn to the story of Hamdi Hassan, who spent his formative years in a small rural town in Denmark. Hassan was kicked out of art school for disruptive behavior in music class, and then consequently became addicted to MTV whilst he waited an entire year to get another placement. Eventually finding his way to his now adoptive home in Manchester; he discovered hip hop, grime and a supportive musical community – as well as his first recording studio, which was stationed above legendary nightclub Sankey’s in Beehive Mill.
HMD is beautifully representative of the new Mancunian order, where a growing number of young black artists are finding their voices being carried far wider than the limits of the city borders – and slowly dismantling any outdated perceptions of what a Mancunian artist should look and sound like. Latest release Dayz, a tender collaboration with Ruby-Ann Patterson (another artist making a name for herself with hip hop/soul band Family Ranks) feels like a breakthrough moment for both of them . HMD’s sparse but pretty production gives them both the freedom to showcase their rich vocals. Remiscent at times of Sampha, this is raw, emotive and utterly magical. Sometimes all you need is a spark.
When modern icon Kendrick Lamar performed a surprise secret show in Manchester recently, he also found the time to cypher with local talent at a workshop organised by Brighter Sounds. Clearly inspired by the opportunity to impress K.Dot; 21 year old Layfullstop rose to the challenge, holding her own on the mic against the Grammy-award winning star. It was the kind of attention-grabbing statement that she could only have imagined making the night before… but for those in the know, it’s just a matter of time before the spotlight takes on a more permanent fixture.
Currently one of Manchester’s best kept secrets, 21 year old Lay Nathan has already been exciting audiences with her genre-defying performances; experimenting with elements of neo-soul, jazz, electronica, hip hop and grime. Living in a city which naturally encourages collaboration, it’s no surprise to discover her recorded output is equally as expressive; as a member of urban collectives Roots Raddix and Cul Dé Sac, her talent is clearly being nurtured lovingly by those around her.
As a solo artist, Lay. has continually played with her artistic identity; there’s a real sense of freedom to her work, which from a purely technical perspective, displays a high level of skill and confidence… but, it’s the emotions behind her voice that truly make her something special. Latest release Angel Halo feels like it could be breakthrough moment, a track that mixes old school soul and injects it with modern hip hop – harking back to those 90’s R’n’B halcyon days, when Aaliyah, Lauryn Hill and TLC were ruling the charts. Produced by Keziyah, the intelligently subtle and sophisticated production gives the track breathing space and allows her to reach for moments of beauty with her sultry and distinct velvet harmonies.
Jake Shields raps with venom. Hailing from Kodiak in the U.S. state of Alaska and recording under the moniker of Lucid, Jake’s aggressive rapping style, stacked vocals, rapid-fire phrasing and clear enunciation suggest the influence of MCs like Eminem. His lyrics are personal and clever. There’s an edginess and a sense of self-belief in his performance, like Hip-Hop is a release for him – something he creates because he’s compelled to.
Made For Me sounds like catharsis – an educated Hip-Hop acid trip. Beats grind out awash with stark samples on a hypnotic loop. Jake’s metaphysical and occasionally violent lyrical imagery is delivered with a dark sense of humour and a healthy dose of attitude. As comfortable waxing lyrical about revenge and paralysing self-doubt as he is aliens, spaceships and Greek philosophers – Jake throws it all at the wall on Made For Me and asks, “Are you feeling it?”