Review Summary: Not all is well across the pond
Unlike its American counterpart, UK hip hop never realized its full commercial potential. Instead, it became vastly overshadowed by its stylistic cousin grime and forever stayed entrenched as a relatively underground phenomenon. Due to this limited pop appeal, UK hip hop has evolved virtually nil since the early 2000s and to this day carries a distinct dreary, grimy aesthetic heavily reminiscent of East Coast rap music between 1992 and 1996. The Dragon of an Ordinary Family is simply a continuance of UK hip hop's stubborn albeit admirable refusal to adapt to modern trends and conversely, abide by the ethos of Golden Age hip hop.
Jehst, while often limited by very basic one syllable rhyme schemes, paints vivid pictures of dystopian chaos and a world in distress. Tales of murder, decadence, abject poverty, and (rather disturbingly) dead babies tossed down garbage chutes are all visualized by his picturesque storytelling. The subject matter is very substantial, commentating on the state of lower income/ working-class English neighborhoods riddled with crime. Of course, as his stage name would suggest, the serious undertones of the album sometimes give way to relative levity as is the case of "Thinking Crazy".
Although secondary and somewhat unimaginative throughout, the production will occasionally boast incredible highs as evidenced by "Camberwell Carrots" and "Tears in the Rain". Such instrumentals are distinctly trip hop-derived, brooding and somber, further dampening the sorrowful mood evoked by Jehst's voice. Others are more menacing such as "England", characterized by ominous piano keys and a low-pitched looped vocal sample. Thematically, the production conjures melancholy, pity, and hopelessness.
For all its grassroots appeal, predictability, and stubborn lack of innovation, UK hip hop remains a curious example of how a hip hop scene can emerge when safely in the hands of anti-commercialism purists and without the overbearing influence of profiteering record labels. The Dragon of an Ordinary Family is a solid representation of the genre, featuring characteristic political rapping and serviceable, at times brilliant beatwork.