Like pre-Iraq War British intelligence, U.K. hip-hop is regarded as suspect at best. After all, the classic hip-hop mantra "Fuck tha police" doesn't seem as relevant when the fuzz comes armed with billy clubs and funny hats. Upwards, the new album from long-time U.K. scenester Ty, marks a sea change. The production is every bit as nimble as that of Ty's American counterparts, and the flows and lyrics are just as versatile and engaging.
With the help of production partner Drew, Ty handles much of the beat-making on Upwards. From the Caribbean shuffle of "Oh You Want More?" to the broken-beat jazz inflections of "Groovement (Part 1)," Ty covers a lot of ground. And what makes the CD even more impressive is his ability to blend live instrumentation with a lyrical lilt that feels neither forced nor needlessly "organic." Instead, the album has a polished, R&B sheen that bears more of a resemblance to the electro-fusion hip-hop of BBE label artists such as DJ Spinna than it does to the crunchy, apocalyptic meltdown of popular U.K. grime acts such as Dizzee Rascal or Wiley. Like the album's production, Ty's lyrics are diverse and generally upbeat. "Wait a Minute" captures the emotional havoc caused by a broken relationship. Buried beneath the braggadocio of "I Want 2," Ty takes aim at his trigger-happy peers: "Suicide life music ain't going my way." He continues to tackle gun violence -- which is reaching unprecedented levels in Britain -- on the exceptional "Rain." The song's universal message of peace and understanding, along with Ty's incredible lyrical and production prowess, helps Upwards transcend the inherent cultural barriers and ranks it as one of the stronger hip-hop releases this year. -- Sam Chennault
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