Review Summary: One of modern grime's most consistently impressive talents releases his first full-length, and its exactly as impressive as it should be.4 of 4 thought this review was well written
It's hard to get excited about grime these days. What was once a fresh breath of air in the garage scene has creatively taken the backseat to the genre that spawned it. The raw aggression that came with seminal releases like Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner
can only keep a style alive for so long. The abrasive instrumentals are still occasionally fitting on the dance-floor with or without an MC on top, and grime's harsh sound still shows its influence in plenty of innovative productions. It can be seen in releases like TNGHT's self-titled EP and all over the more aggressive modern garage tracks. But if you're looking for something that's straight-up grime and not just “grime-influenced”, you'll find few gems among a see of monotony. But there are
still those gems, like Terror Danjah's Dark Crawler EP
that dropped in July or, well, Royal-T's entire discography. This is Royal-T's first full-length and consists of entirely new tracks, with the exception of a big single “Inside the Ride” that was previously released. Now this
is a reason to get excited about grime.
Maybe even more important than the fact that Royal-T is still coming up with brilliant grime in 2012 is the fact that he's really not stepping outside of the boundaries much at all, which begs the question of why he seems to be one of the few producers still capable of doing so. Is it an issue with grime itself, or just grime producers? Rinse Presents: Royal-T
is mostly comprised of massive club-oriented instrumentals: stuff that is undeniably infectious but also capable of completely tearing the walls down. It isn't a change of pace for Royal-T, whose productions have always been monstrous unions of dirty basslines and hard-hitting percussion. It's everything fans could have hoped for in a full-length. What's surprising is how well Royal-T is able to keep pacing on his first full-length, despite having a bit of a one-track mind as far as intentions go. That isn't a fault, the album intends to be a driving, energetic album and it succeeds in every way. That also isn't to say that there's a lot of experimentation or variation outside of the grime sound, but in a genre where the quick and easy release of EPs and singles tends to win out over the more calculated requirements of a full-length, Royal-T seems to understand where and when variations in pacing and style can make or break an hour's worth of tracks that seem to be essentially designed for the dance-floor.
The album benefits a lot from the fact that Royal-T's brand of grime typically shows a lot more variation on its own than his contemporaries do, but there are some shockingly creative variants on the garage-rooted style that show just how capable the producer is. “Music Box” carries the all-important low-end weight that holds the necessarily driving aggression, which is varied enough on its own to keep interest, but it also has a charming melody sprinkled on top of the club madness. That's the norm here. These aren't partial tracks that depend on an MC performance on top of them, these are fully-realized tracks that accomplish so much more than the typical grime instrumental that it's almost unfair to call them that. There are some guest MCs here as well, most noticeably of which is P Money who raps over the intro track. P Money has proved himself to be one of the most show-stealing MCs in the modern grime scene, with his spot on True Tiger's swinging track “Slang Like This” being a bit more of a catchy anthem than anything typical of the genre. With a spot here on Royal-T's relentlessly up-beat “Cruel to Be Kind”, the collaboration hits stunningly hard. It still has a bit of that infectious style, but it has a lot more substance than “Slang Like This”, which relied a bit too much on the chorus's hook. Here P Money's vocals fit perfectly on top of the matching bouncy beat for the verses, and the chorus has a less obvious hook, relying more on the smart, subtle melody of the production. Grime may never have been this catchy when showing its more aggressive style.
The tracks that step furthest away from that sound show Royal-T to be a surprisingly capable dubstep and garage producer. “Missing Aurora” is a track that sidesteps after the album's frenetic beginnings. It's full of dense garage percussion and has the dub-rooted basslines that dominate the deeper side of dubstep, but the low-end is a bit more distorted and fittingly grimy, while the rest of the space on the track is filled with ambient synths and vocals that fade in and out and would seemingly fit better on a much more introspective listen, being fairly reminiscent of the way Clubroot uses vocal samples on his latest album. “You're Saved” on the other hand is a departure that's a bit less pleasant. It's not a bad track by any means, but the underlying garage instrumental depends on a vocal performance that is entirely too cheesy and predictable in its pop hooks and catchiness.
This is a surprisingly consistent grime release that is unique in its ability to stay fresh for its entire full-length duration. It suffers only from having a few tracks that are noticeably weaker. Previously-mentioned “You're Saved” seems a bit too intentionally radio-friendly, and “Break Your Neck” holds an abrasiveness that feels a bit too contrived, being aggressive but failing to capture the raw energy of the better tracks. There's also an unshakable feeling that even though this release does its best to exist as a carefully designed full-length, the fact that it's relentlessly dance-worthy from start to finish makes it still seem like it may be more accurate to simply think of this as a collection of tracks. It may just be an inherent flaw with trying to make a full-length album in the genre, but it's hard to criticize what may seem like a “collection of tracks” when the tracks are this good. Royal-T has not only shown that grime is still capable of being creative and great today. He's also setting the bar so that maybe some of his fellow producers can match his ability in the future.