Sunday, April 20, 2008

Riko Arena

"It's been about 14 years / I've been killin' MCs and taunting br'ers"

Were we not such dyed-in-the-wool Londinistas that we rep for public transport at every turn, we'd almost be tempted to go out and nab a cabriolet with Koni air-shocks, just so we could boom Riko's "The Truth" opus at max volume as we cruised around the manor. Riko, as "Big Time Veteran" (also on this double-CD) acknowledged, is fairly ancient - early 30s - in a game where the best established producer right now is still in his teens: but this is the first Riko product we've managed to get hold of since "Chosen One" with Target on the first Run the Road, and his phoned-in verse from HMP Brixton to Lady Sovereign's "Random" remix before she too joined the queue of faller-offers. (And yes, we know that we increasingly devote plenty of pixels to asides of mourning for those who've fallen off, but then that's the territory if one writes, however badly, about music: incidentally the reason we don't write about Estelle any more, who's all big tings now, isn't that she's fallen off: it's just that her thing isn't our thing no more).

Sorry. Again assembled over a period of years - this time more than just the last two - "The Truth" is shrill with the kind of lairy, eager, buzzing gun-clap that sounded so exciting when "Run The Road" first rolled round, as Riko peppers pleasingly raw passages of ragga-style toasting with more conventional rhyming. Also, more than many mixtapes, and probably because it hasn't been thrown together in a matter of months, this one manages to stay in high gear, hardly ever derailing into the stock mixtape filler territory of R&B shlock tributes to mum, girlfriend, fallen soldierz etc.

It starts by exhuming "So Amazing", last seen on Eskiboy's "Da 2nd
Phaze"
, and then delivers a stream of should-be singles. As well as the imperious, Bless Beats-anchored "Big Time Veteran", there's "No Boad Test This Corner" which bounces with nervous energy and irresistible, rippling beats (guess who it's produced by); "It's War", all busy rapping over "My Mistakes"-style backing; "Grand Theft Auto", a series of digs at Lethal Bizzle and no doubt those boasts of Punto-nicking on his last album; and the very neat, dancehall and reggae-tinged "Informer Dead" and "Retaliate". The second disc is bookended by six minutes in the sassy company of "Dumplin Riddim" (sirens, skank, sublow = swell) and an 18-minute 1Xtra soundclash with Flowdan. Plus, when let loose on Skepta's Stage Show riddim, Riko proves nearly as hyper as Jammer is on the excerpt that appeared on Skream's Rinse comp...

Unlike Eskiboy and Trim's tapes, Riko does rather concentrate on banging out these foursquare crowdpleasers and club tunes one after another - only on "My Style" and "I'm Still Here" does he really give us more of a glimpse of his story, his personality - but the package is generally imperturbably great, falling off (there we go again) only with the likes of "Selfish Lies" (see comments above re wishy-washy songs about relationships) and the nadir, the predictably un-liberating "Women's Liberation". But in the end, if you can make a few quid go further than this double CD, we'd be extremely surprised.

PS Congratulations to Queen of the South. Today, you have qualified for Europe.