a year in the life of oscar the slouch: review

Ramson Badbonez, arguably the UK's most naturally gifted MC. A man whose utilisation of some of Hip Hops most well known Golden Age instrumentals (The London Realness, 3 Endings) is nothing short of genius. After his catalogue of mixtapes and assorted releases grew exponentially, his debut album (released via Boot Records) Bad Influence, took its bow. Yet as good as most of the album was, to me Ramson suffered from what I call, the Can-I-Bus effect. A plethora of superbly written rhymes were heard from start to finish, yet there was a distinct lack of structure. Having gonna back to the drawing board, Mr. Badbonez is back with his first release through High Focus Records, A Year In The Life of Oscar The Slouch.

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Their are two obvious pluses for Oscar The Slouch over its predecessor. The albums title gives away the first. The gritty, unforgiving side of London life is documented via Oscar with each track (14 tracks including the intro and outro) covering one month in a very eventful year. The second is this albums far more cohesive sound. Thanks to the production being entirely handled by underrated workaholic Charlie Mac, there is a definitive lean towards beats being utilised for different aspects of the album, as opposed to simply selecting a banger for bangers sake.

Ramson's flow is one that can easily overshadow most of the beats it comes into contact with and it is very easy to start marvelling at the lyrical wizardry, all the while completely overlooking what is actually being said. For example, I only noticed the subtle references to the time of year a song is actually set two thirds of the way through my second listen. Oscar contemplates the contents of his New Years resolutions, makes sure his winter boots and gloves are in close attendance, makes summer trips to the Trocadero, admires ladies in skimpy outfits and resents the temperature and snow during Christmas. These observations and the way they are not so obviously implemented clearly shows a man wanting to make an album rather than just a collection of (great) songs.

Charlie Mac has put in a superb shift with the beats. Jazz Hop and Boom Bap are clearly his niche and are my favourite Hip hop sub genres so when they are as well done as they are on Oscar I can only applaud. The foundations are very nicely laid in January where the uptempo beat and muffled bongo's are a great tandem for Oscar's (slightly) positive outlook on the forthcoming year. This is a process that is carried from start to finish with Oscars mood being married with the music he is lamenting over. Even the guests are perfect for the songs on which they appear (Joker Starr in March). The cuts and chops are also very clever in their use. A couple of Golden Age street classics (remember Get The money And Dip?), clips from London riot news feeds and even Sesame Street vocal clips are a perfect foil for Ramson's street orientated insight and quirky (but not at all annoying) vocal pitch.

For all that inner city insight though, Ramson could have given Oscar a little more worldly wisdom. Thugs, Gangsters, Kingpins and runners, no matter how complex or base they may be, have views too. With the talent at his disposal, Ramson could have easily imparted views on Banking, the governments austerity measures or even the alarming increase in food banks given each has a relevance in Oscars life. There are only so many ways you can describe the same scenarios or make the same threats before it becomes a little monotonous. An energetic delivery and skilful wordplay (marvellous though it is) will only carry an album so far. Indeed it is not until September that any such subject is touched upon for more that one or two bars and even then it is Genesis Elijah that does so (superbly I might add). With all that said, when a subject is approached properly in November and done so well it makes the lack of that approach overall all the more frustrating.

Ramson Badbonez will release a classic sooner or later and he was almost there with Oscar The Slouch. The focus is there, the witty wordplay is there, the concept and vision are there, the attention to detail and execution is there, the superb beats are there, the great choice of features is there, the dominance of songs is there. The subject matter (or lack of it) however is all that is holding him back and needs a fair bit of beefing up. If this is addressed and the same focus and delivery is applied that classic is surely a formality.

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