Review Summary: Less of an exercise in hip-hop dynamics than a blueprint for the future of one of the most promising UK talents working at the moment.
From his humble beginnings on rap battle leagues such as Don’t Flop and King Of The Dot, Adam Rooney, a.k.a. Shotty Horroh has come a long way. He has had spots on Fire In The Booth, amassed an impressive amount of attention on YouTube, and recorded and released a number of solid mixtapes, all of which have been underground hits. Over time he has become slightly more Americanized- an unavoidable side effect of being a hip hop dissonant in a foreign land, it seems- but let it never be said that Shotty lacks any integrity. From his earliest battle, he has managed to maintain an impressive consistency in the quality of his rhymes; biting, intelligent, sometimes comical and frequently edgy, but always rooted in substance. In time, viewers came to relish the rhyme patterns and sensationalist lyrical flourishes as a never unwelcome mainstay, and the warm reaction from hip-hop enthusiasts (still, unfortunately, predominantly in the UK, but gaining popularity rapidly) his ensured a hopefully bright future for the young Mancunian. Xombie Xoo
marks the return of all his characteristic traits, right down to the lad swagger and nasal voice, but also brings along with it a streetwise eloquence, criticizing whilst all the while languishing in the attention. Notably, for a young artist coming from a depressed area of Manchester, the material on these recordings is seldom bitter, preferring to opt for a slightly lighter tone, and thus containing a number of anthemic beats, warped basslines, and disorientating rhyme schemes. The release has its darker moments too, and these pepper the tracks with pitch black humour or grim ironies, oftentimes resulting in a tight-lipped smirk and an immediate appreciation for the sheer audacity of the statements, should they take the form of entire tracks or smug little asides peppered throughout. Take a deep breath (preferably of grass smoke), and let Shotty escort you around this hazy carnival wonderland as only he knows how.
makes little pretence about its intentions- the cover, depicting a skeletal ‘xombie’ version of the rapper in an enclosure (with a cannabis leaf for a heart), perfectly epitomizes the album’s duality of grim but tongue in cheek, and the first track on the album, 'Flesh Eating Dead Walking', serves as a perfectly calculated introduction to the release. With its plodding, deep bass, rock track percussion and stuttering yet melodic harmonica (a la Gorillaz) Shotty’s vicious initial verses take the offensive, and the relentless pace of his bars bombard the listener, creating a clever but seemingly non-existent harmony between the musical elements. Happily, as far as the beats go, the reach of the album is neither too ambitious nor too underwhelming; straddling a happy medium between ‘80’s old school and modern purist rap acts- sufficiently bombastic, but always satisfyingly bass-heavy and innovative. Melodic piano hooks are utilised, as are chimes and a multitude of satisfying drum loops, but these are all, ultimately just the background and metronome for Rooney's verses. Lyrical themes concern Shotty’s rise to fame, weed, his family, weed, girls, weed, independence, and weed. Of course, hip-hop artists and green is as natural a combination as a bacon and eggs or tuna and mayonnaise, but Shotty’s slightly nihilistic yet shameless promotion of his vice is refreshing, to say the least; at the very least it is reminiscent of ‘80s rap, at the most, it is a non-political voice in the UK declaring his contempt for the law and in a manner that actually seems to confirm the bad-boy persona. The topic has the similar glow of Bob Marley's expressions of appreciation; almost endearing in their positive associations in the material. Also, rather notably, there is not a great deal of material concerned with criminal activity in the lyrical content, which is equally refreshing. Rather, there is an image projected from the attitudes expressed in the musicality; the bad-boy perception is of the listener’s own making, and this is deeply satisfying to experience.
There is variety on the album in all musical avenues, resulting in a pleasantly mixed experience. Examples of Shotty’s lyrical acrobatics can be seen on tracks such as 'FYM', on which he his joined by two collaborators who put in equally impressive performances, combining nifty grammatical skips with speed and intensity. The more big room-sounding efforts comprise such tracks as single ‘No Need To Talk' and 'Buckle Up', and the darker side of the street is occupied by tracks like the opening 'Flesh Eating Dead Walking', 'Sabod' and '1up', the latter of which features a distinctly UK garage-sounding yet minimalist beat. Even the jazzy psychedelia found on 'What's The Hurry' and 'They Don’t Understand' feels right at home at their intermittent track positions, demonstrating the overall cohesion of the release's style. The collection features 9 collaborations, and some of these artists appear on more than one track, resulting in 8 of the 14 tracks being a collaboration. This rather unfortunately creates the impression that Shotty gets less limelight than he should have, but thankfully, the 45 minute runtime more than compensates in quality.
Bare, amenable potential like this comes along all-too rarely, and Shotty makes it unequivocally clear he is taking no prisoners. Xombie Xoo
is consistently impressive, with any perceived lack of depth in Shotty’s lyrics more than compensated for through the lyrical contortionism, which is as varied as the musicality itself. There are occasions, unfortunately, when the seams start to fray a little- such as track 'Seems Like', which features a monotonous, atonal chorus, completely out of step with the rest of the songs. The bored complacency of following track 'Séance' is also up for scrutiny, with a barely processed beat and a low tone, ugly synth drone throughout. Collaborative rapper on this track, one D’lyfa Reilly, also takes the opportunity to present the album’s lyrical low point;
“Keep talkin', you plank; walk on yourself, tread on your feet, clumsy, red on your sneaks: orchard.”
Trust me, it makes even less sense in the context of the track, but I applaud the fact they decided to place it on one of the album’s weaker recordings. Perhaps my most pressing negative of the album is that it lacks that timeless quality that makes classic hip-hop albums, well, classics. It features aspects to love aplenty, but it feels very of its time, and despite its best efforts, it falls afoul of a few pop music sins, and as such, rather misses the boat on the memorability factor. However, being taken as it is, this is a punchy, scrappy, raucous and creative record from a promising young rapper, and as much as this is an impressive starting point, it is exactly that: a starting point. Potential is the key word; Shotty has a sh*tload of it, and if his development as an artist is as exciting to await as this production (and others) would have listeners believe, then we’re in for a treat when Shotty releases his debut LP later this year.