When A Tribe Called Quest coined the phrase “Beats, Rhymes & Life” for the title of their fourth album, the crew from Queens, NY succinctly summed-up the essential ingredients needed to create timeless, memorable Hip-Hop that goes beyond just being music to nod your head to.
Of course, dope beats and witty rhymes can always be enough for an artist to make their mark, but in order to truly connect with a listener in a way that feels personal and genuine, an artist also has to let us into their world by sharing thoughts, hopes and disappointments in their verses. Something which talented UK producer-on-the-mic Jack Diggs seems to understand completely.
Having already become something of a cult figure within UK Hip-Hop circles thanks to both his solo work (2013’s impressive “Dirty Finger Nails” album) and contributions to the output of South London’s TPS Fam, Diggs’ latest long-player is a sublime slice of homegrown excellence which sounds effortless in its execution, but was no doubt painstakingly put together with attention paid to every sonic detail, both lyrically and in terms of the project’s production (which was handled entirely by Diggs himself).
Displaying a writing style that is brutally honest yet intelligent and insightful, Jack brilliantly captures the British working-class experience throughout “Blue Rain”, delving into both politics and social commentary whilst also offering a view into his own experiences.
Frustrated and struggling to find his place in today’s capitalist society, yet hopeful that time may bring a change for the better, Diggs represents many UK residents also looking to make sense of what they see happening around them, with the forthright lyricist making his position very clear on the opening “Dopamine”.
Over punchy drums and sweeping, melancholy strings, Diggs describes being “outside Number 10 kicking down the front door” before highlighting the ongoing class war in England and his own battle with the concept of national pride (“British and proud? I’m British and ashamed, A land filled with wealth generated by the slave trade…”).
The mournful guitar sample and echoing drums of “City Drive” conjure up images of cold, winter nights, whilst the thick, jazzy bass of “I Know” provides a solid platform for Diggs and fellow Revorg representative Big Toast to offer some uncompromising-yet-motivational words of wisdom to anyone chasing a goal (“Life ain’t magic and dreams don’t just happen…).”
Highlighting Jack’s passion for the spray-can, the “Style Wars”-sampling “This Is It” is a piano-laced instrumental dedication to graff-heads everywhere, which is followed by the soothing vibes of the album’s hypnotic title track, with Diggs being joined by Mnsr Frites, Archetype and Luca Brazi, who each make their own poignant lyrical contributions.
The sombre “Glass Home” is another immediate standout, with the emcee commenting on our collective pursuit of happiness, and how the pressures of the daily grind can often take us down a different path, leading to a thirst for instant gratification, heavy reliance on validation via social media and the constant need to impress those around us.
Although steeped in an obvious appreciation of dusty-fingered 90s boom-bap, Diggs’ own production finds the UK crate-digger doing much more than just simply trying to emulate his favourite Premier or Pete Rock track.
The beats heard on “Blue Rain”, as with the TPS member’s previous work, have a real organic depth to them, with Diggs once again displaying a finely-tuned ear for an atmospheric sample, allowing him to consistently match his rhymes to the most suitable beat in terms of mood and tone.
More than just a collection of quality tracks, “Blue Rain” is a cohesive, well-crafted body of work that offers listeners a striking, down-to-earth musical snapshot of life for many in today’s modern Britain.
Jack Diggs for Prime Minister?!