Charlie Sloth: The Plug [Album Review]
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As BBC Radio 1Xtra concluded its 15th birthday celebrations, Charlie Sloth, one of the figureheads of the radio station, released his latest album, ‘The Plug’, which features some of the UK's most talked about up and coming talent, as well as some of Charlie's established friends from across the Atlantic. The album - which is full of quotable bars, rap and drill anthems, carnival and island vibes, introspective lyrical confessions and of course, some hood tunes - is out now and I'm sure you'll have a listen yourself and make your own decisions, but if you haven't had a chance yet, take a few minutes to get an idea of what you can expect.
Now, if you follow the UK rap scene closely, you will undoubtedly be familiar with Charlie Sloth, but if you don’t, you may recognise him for being the slightly irritating, loud-mouth white guy you hear shouting down your headphones when you’re listening to 1Xtra. You may also know him as the self-proclaimed ‘best looking fat guy on the planet’ but regardless of the pseudonym, what you may not know about, is the influence Charlie has on UK music. And not just who you’re listening to, but also how UK music is perceived by the mainstream in Britain and over in the US. Throughout ‘The Plug’, Charlie showcases artists he’s been championing for a minute - who may already be on your radar - as well as some relatively new up and comers and although the project seems to lack fluidity because of the wide range of artist styles, genres and tempos, it has the potential to open your eyes to new talent.
The 21 track project kicks off with ‘In2 hitmakers’, WSTRN. I say ‘In2 hitmakers’ because, at the moment, they haven’t been able to eclipse the success of their debut single – at least in the eyes of the mainstream – and have experimented with a few different styles (including a cover of Evelyn King’s disco hit ‘Love Comes Down’) to try and do so. For ‘The Plug’, they decided to go for a Caribbean/R&B hybrid, beginning with an island bounce and continuing with a noughties R&B bassline. The result, ‘Take What’s Ours’, is not bad. Louis Rei’s verse is as infectious as ever and the production compliments them as a trio.
Next up is Avelino and Mic Righteous with their collaboration ‘Take It All’. This was the first example of the album losing its fluidity. Both Av and Mic are good rappers but ‘Take It All’ is not a good track. Neither of them are at their best, their styles do anything but compliment each other and the transition from the calm vibes of WSTRN’s intro track, to the belligerent verse from Mic Righteous left me questioning which direction the album was going to go in. To be fair, the more aggressive, UK rap style did continue with Ghetts and Abra Cadabra on ‘Running’ but, for me, it was just done a lot better this time around. Ghetts and Abz were almost in conversation with each other on the track, making it feel a bit more natural and the two artists, known for their energy and formidable flows, sounded a lot more comfortable.
The prominent UK rap sound then continues with Fredo’s trap/drill influence on ‘UPS’ but is left behind when Lola Rae switches things up once again with her minimal bashment/dancehall-influenced track ‘Pull Up On You’, which has to be one of my favourites. This is where Charlie Sloth’s ideas become clear. The variety and almost random combination of artists was completely intentional. When discussing his thought process, he explained ‘I wanted to make this album as diverse as I possibly could. I come from the world of urban music, particularly grime and rap, but I wanted to make sure all the different aspects of what I represent were featured on the album’. This rationalises the transition between tracks like ‘UPS’ and ‘Pull Up On You’ and also solidifies Charlie’s position as someone who not only broadcasts UK music, but someone who acts as a catalyst for UK talent across the scene in its entirety.
After a melodic digression, the UK rap sound returns temporarily in the form of Skinz and K Koke but the album takes a tangent once again with ‘Angelina’ from Lil Kesh, Olamide and Not3s. This track for me represents the infatuation the commercial market has with afro-influenced music. It combines the afrobeats drums with pop-synths and melodies. Add an up and coming UK rapper to the equation, and you’ve got a track you can picture ringing out at a pool party in Marbella, entertaining a collection of Love Island wannabees. When you listen to it, you’ll get what I mean.
Charlie then brings in Aystar, a northern rapper whose harsh Liverpudlian accent wouldn’t have been heard on a commercial album a few years ago. But through his lack of regional bias, Charlie has shown that UK rap in not necessarily going to remain a London-centric genre. Another example of a northern rapper, whose career has benefitted massively because of a relationship with Charlie Sloth, is Bugzy Malone. Track 9, ‘Pressure’ sees Bugzy make his first appearance on the album, alongside Ace Hood and Silvastone, again creating an unlikely collaboration.
After a convoluted journey through the narrative of the first half of the album, we arrive at Giggs’s ‘Wake Up’ – a tune which reflects the rapper’s early music days and will transport you back to a time when the Drake collaborator was still an underground rapper. As the beat starts to warm up, you could probably guess who was about to lay a verse, without even seeing the track list, because of the face that it already sounds like a Giggs track. The minimal, looping production creates a perfect lyrical playground for the south London rapper who flexes on the beat with the nonchalance of a veteran.
As well as having a significant influence on commercial music in Britain, Charlie Sloth also works with American artists, whether it be when they join him in the studio for a Fire In The Booth session or they collaborate with him on a project. ‘The Plug’ gives a couple of examples of this with the aforementioned Ace Hood and one of the US’s popular prospects, 21 Savage, who appears on the album alongside Hardo in their track ‘Gang’. Sean Kingston and Spice also feature on the album and although they might not be from the States, it gives you an idea of the weight Charlie Sloth’s name holds internationally.
Young T and Bugsey’s ‘No Pictures’ is another highlight for me. The Nottingham duo have already released a couple of anthemic tracks and from the pool of prospective UK rappers Charlie Sloth could have chosen from to represent the genre’s youthful talent, in my opinion Young T and Bugsey would be one of the better choices. Their playful bars combined with their knowledge of how to structure a track to create a commercially appealing hit, demonstrates the ability of the scene they represent.
Charlie also includes Wolfie on the project; a rising alternative R&B-style singer who is creating a name for herself through her unique, honest and authentic music. Again, this doesn’t necessarily synchronise perfectly with other tracks on the project, but it is another example of Charlie Sloth, as a tastemaker, being unapologetic in who he chooses to champion with his curation.
As the album concludes – with a reggae/dub influenced collaboration between Donae’o and Konshens – the purpose of the album becomes undeniable. Charlie Sloth wanted to create a product which he felt would represent the diversity and talent of ‘urban’ music in the UK and subsequently catapult that into the commercial limelight. I’ll admit, I wasn’t a fan of every track on the album but there is no doubt that Charlie Sloth is doing, and has done, a lot for this particular scene and I will always welcome a 21 track project championing independent and up and coming UK talent.
Grab your copy of the album here.
Words: Patrick Fennelly