ALBUM REVIEW: A WORK OF HEART – TY (JAZZ REFRESHED)
Written by Andrew Kay
TY is probably one of the best-known British rappers, having cultivated an international reputation for quality rhymes over rich, dense and soulful production – much of which he has produced himself. His last concert in London was a roaring success of experimentation and tradition, with TY pushing the creative envelope. This is his fifth album and perhaps his most realized and ambitious yet.
Opening with a nice, funky instrumental, this is a palette taster leading up to “Eyes Open”, a breezy, jazz-infused, piano-punctuated, keyboard-enveloping and buttery lyrical journey of optimistic yearnings and reflective musings, conjuring up dreamy days of sunny skies and peaceful vibes.
Cleary an autobiographical story of TY’s struggles as an artist, the song is about wanting a positive future, but with a note of caution.
“Somehow Somewhere Someway” continues the jazzy vibes, recalling the best of A Tribe Called Quest, as the song warms the soul with similarly positive lyrics, EQ’d to perfection to give TY’s powerfully distinctive British-accented voice and rapping style the right expressive lane to showcase his talents. There’s a nice stab of trumpets nestling in the organ-flavoured sonic landscape. The spoken word poetry of Umar Bin Hassan 1970s group The Last Poets’ lets the song’s deep lyrical agenda powerfully linger.
“Brixton Baby” is a lyrical ode to the multicultural and creative melting pot that is South London’s hub and musical apex. A consistent album tone of jazz licks gives the song a liberating poignancy. There’s a mixture of reality lyrics and a tone of hope and community, illustrating Brixton’s resistance to mass gentrification and constant regeneration as a home of cultural renaissance.
The album’s title track has an energetic and jagged, sonic foundation, really emphasizing the electronic bouncy jabs and stabs, like a teddy bear being thrown down a flight of stairs. Complementing this chunky keyboard creation is TY’s wonderful wordplay and his distinct vocal range, which sounds purposeful and dominating.
“Marathon” is however a more reflective song; an honest ode to depression, mental health and keeping perspective. TY conjures up vivid images in his heartfelt poetry. The song’s production is powerful, but there’s a prayer-like lilt that softens the harsh realities of the song.
Hip-hop and jazz meld perfectly on “No Place To Run” over a rugged foundation, with female vocals expressing and lamenting the daily issues of living in poverty and with less opportunity. The addition of a mournful saxophone gives the song the kind of power and run up TY’s fast-paced style of vocal delivery requires, adding a required gravitas and energy. In contrast, “You Gave Me” slows things down a pace over a rhythmically hypnotic beat that sounds deceptively simple in its repetition, but which has added cymbals and saxophones and a lush female vocal sample. TY comes in with his commanding voice expressing gratitude for those that have helped him along the way.
“Harper’s Revenge” is the album’s most energetic song – pure hip-hop, the album’s party jam – a funk foundation with added 21st century creative keyboard soundscapes. There’s a bouncy, excited and rhythmically jumpy and infectious groove throughout and some bossing flutes and a whole lot of vibes going on. The song uses the Malcolm McClaren “Buffalo Girls” sample to give what Rakim referred to as a “solo without an ending”- letting the beat ride out, extending the feeling of good cheer and playful energy.
“Folks Say People Say” – a classic hip-hop foundation of “Think” by Lynn Collins and used by early 1990s RnB group Today, amongst countless others – features TY buggin’ out in a happy place, illustrating a positive frame of mind. The traditional hip-hop beat is left to savour memories of a simpler time.
Music and spoken word are used to communicate strengths and to mend broken relationships on “A World of Flaws”. Given its title, it’s more reflective than pessimistic, showing that we’re all mortal and we have differences and commonality, often at the same time. TY looks to everyone to improve with an engaged and engaging mind over a smooth but rugged beat, with added melody and sophistication through creative and judicious layering. The vocal sample towards the end sums up the song and cements its power and purpose.
“Raindrops” arrests the listener with a head-nodding therapeutic infection – the raindrops on this song are like funk hailstones, embracing a Parliament-style chunkiness that envelopes the speakers. TY is clearly having fun on this song and so are the listeners.
The boom-bap foundation of two hands clapping on bongos and a rhyme scheme that playfully nods a head to the essence of hip-hop is “The Raspberry”. While the lyrics are clever and dexterous – using women as a metaphor and an abstraction with a reference to Prince – the song has many layers of production, which is what real hip-hop is all about.
“As the Smoke Clears” feels like a jazzy Roy Ayers song operated on by knowing hip-hop heads. There’s a lovely combo of male and female vocals, chorus and assistance, with a dirty pavement, street-smart sensibility, like how the bastard art-form jazz was hewed and how another bastard art-form came about from jazz. The smoke clears from Miles Davis on a small stage to TY dealing with a smoking ban – the mantle goes from one to another.
“A Work of Heart” is truly that: a sincere journey of TY’s progression as an artist and as a human being. It is hip-hop and jazz with Timberland stomps on rough streets and late-night whisky sessions in places where the mainstream forgets, but which, out of that rejection and neglect and lack of opportunity, creates works of art, from the heart, with TY articulating a rage with intellect and talent that sees him at the top of the British rap pantheon, with an outward looking sensibility that should bring him a whole new generation of listeners. Those that know, know. It’s not all about Grime. Ty paved the way for those cats to eat. So, respect the architects and support this album.
A WORK OF HEART IS OUT MARCH 2ND 2018 , GATEFOLD VINYL/CD/DOWNLOAD/STREAM