We’re not the demographic for hip-hop, but we like Bugzy Malone.
This album smacks of a man who’s absorbed lots of music, and achieved some genuine wisdom. He’s also from Manchester, so we feel more affinity with him than some lad from London: at least we’ve seen the streets he’s talking about.
Bugzy Malone — his mates know him as Aaron Davis — grew up in Crumpsall, born into a family of career criminals, “gangsters raised me” as the rather melodic refrain on Warning has it. He saw an uncle get shot in the face, and himself eventually holidayed at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.
He’s now heading a grime revival and allegedly moving away from a commercial sound, but all the bands he heard as kid — he cites Motown, Bob Marley, Oasis and Stone Roses — infuse the grime, so, for example, Ordinary People opens rather beautifully. (It’s a tune for Northerners, too, “The hearts in our chests are full of Northern love / And even when we’re broke we’ll always have enough”).
The gist of Bugzy’s skilfully delivered lyrics is that kids on the streets who are falling into crime can look to him and see escape (hence the album title).
Picking lines from consecutive songs, he says: “I’ve been in the darkest places, believe me you can beat depression … I’m from a place no-one expected us to make it … Yeah, there’s power in numbers but don’t underestimate age out there … I was going to be a robber now I wear all the best clobber … They’re trying to keep you in the slum … young boy run, run, run … But I can not tell the youngsters not to rob olders, I’m not their dad … I had a restraining order from Bury New Road and £1,000 to my name … (now) I’m bringing in so many tracksuits that you would have thought I was importing drugs”. You get the picture.
But Bugzy has lived the life and has sympathy for kids living in poverty. City of God gets several mentions; we assume the film about crime in the slums of Brazil is a favourite of his; its tagline is “If you run, the beast catches you; if you stay, the beast eats you”.
It’s not all about crime: his absent dad gets a heartfelt verse or two, and Bugzy sadly remembers an old friend he no longer sees.
Musically, it ranges from stripped down grime to lovely soul and a nifty guitar solo in the style of the Isleys/Funkadelic on Drama. And Run surely channels Hot Chocolate.
Whatever his past he’s a smart guy and every second of this album appears to have been planned. It’s beautiful in places. It’s got enough grime to attract younger fans, but sophistication and the musical influences to attract a wider audience.
He’s also made us smile all week: he talks about his success and his million-pound house but we wonder what the boys in London will make of that, wondering why he’s boasting about getting a two-bed semi…