Benga - Chapter 2

by Charly Richardson Rating:6.5 Release Date:2013-05-06

After producing for the likes of Katy B and Example, forming the worlds first dubstep supergroup Magnetic Man, and touring the USA, Australia and beyond, Croydon boy and original dubstepper Benga is back with a wobbly-bassline-and-a-bang on his first major-label album, Chapter II. Despite insisting last year in an interview with NME that "I don't want to be part of dubstep anymore", his latest offering shows Benga has stayed truer to his roots than many of his fellow originators who have veered towards left-field electronica, minimal house, future garage, or disappeared into obscurity.

Inevitably, his music has evolved somewhat, but he largely sticks to his guns and does what he knows best. It's tempting to pretentiously argue that his sound has become more Radio 1-friendly. But, as a friend who used to accompany me on missions to Brixton Mass in the early days said of Benga recently: "You could say Radio 1 came to him, not vice versa". Indeed, his Friday night slot alongside Skream has made them dubstep royalty, admired by the old and new schools. All this and they are in their mid-20s.

Saying that, there is no denying much of Chapter II is pop-dance orientated, notably 'Smile', an annoyingly catchy number featuring vocalist Charli XCX. 'Higher' is also radio-friendly with an echoing piano intro, drum 'n' bass break, and notably tuneless female vocals inevitably discussing boys and clubs, and getting... well, higher. 'Choose One' (featuring Youngman) is a bit more like it, despite the mind-numbingly vapid lyrics. Luckily, Sam Frank's claustrophobic tale of ghetto-living on 'War Zone' provides a little more depth. There's even a cheesy yet somehow appropriate sax solo thrown in.
 
Generally, the album is vocal-heavy. Instrumentals include the twinkling, contemplative 'Chapter II: To Inspire'; bouncy, fidgety 'There's No Soul; and wobblier-than-jelly 'To Hell and Back'. But for a man who - alongside Coki - was responsible for the anthemic 'Night', there is a distinct lack of a really strong instrumental.
 
In fact, the standout single is 'Forefather' featuring Kano. One of dubstep's best realisations of late is that in-your-face dusbtep nicely compliments in-your-face grime. Kano rides Benga's face-melting groove like no one else. His voice is a one-man journey through the history of black British music: the intonations of ragga, UK hip hop, drum 'n' bass, garage and grime are all present. Releasing this as the single was a no-brainer. P-Money doesn't stand much chance when put next to a veteran like Kano, but he still holds his own on 'High Speed'.
 
There's nothing particularly remarkable or revolutionary about Chapter II. In a way, it is simply the inevitable next step of a remarkable career which started when Benga was a teenager in a Croydon record shop more than a decade ago. Chase & Status, Nero and a whole host of others have taken what was dubstep and turned it into popular mainstream dance. Even Britney Spears and Cheryl Cole have 'dubstep' breakdowns in their songs now. 
 
But it's artists like Benga and Skream who were there at the beginning and are still there, balancing a delicate line between embracing the changes and staying loyal to their history. Like it or not, they are now international ambassadors of what was once a tiny underground scene. And as always, when things get popular, purists turn up their noses. But Chapter II has material which would fit in with the programing schedules of Radio 1 and pirate stations alike. Not many producers could pull off such a balancing act.

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