By Artemis Denton, Second Year English
Camden based rapper Ocean Wisdom has returned with his 4th album, Stay Sane. Serving his much-praised flow but with a more pensive mood, the album feels particularly current as it focuses in on many of today’s key socio-political issues.
Ocean Wisdom is back with a ‘new technique, new flow’, as announced on his track ‘Racists’. Compared to the Camden born artist’s high energy albums, ‘Chaos 93’, ‘Wizville’ and ‘Big Talk Vol 1.’, his 2021 album strikes a different tone. Listeners may be surprised to hear Wisdom’s laid-back flow on Stay Sane, given that he holds the world record for the fastest rap. Indeed, Wisdom outpaced Eminem’s Rap God with his 2014 single Walkin’. However, this only makes the album more poignant, as he reflects on a politically explosive 2020. But don’t fear! If you’re anticipating Wisdom’s usual rapid rhymes, he still flexes his lyrical gymnastics on the album.
Wisdom eases the listener in with the love song ‘Gruesome Crime’, giving us the rapper we’re all familiar with. It’s hard not to vibe to his impressive flow, comic ad- libs and tongue-in-cheek lines. From this track, listeners can prepare for a generally well produced album. Producer Staticbeatz successfully contrasts the melancholy piano which sets the mood for a love song with a hype drum beat that facilitates Wisdom’s flow.
Listeners should also look forward to some exciting collaborations from a brilliant range of UK artists. Maverick Sabre, Frankie Stew and Harvey Gunn, Novelist and Kojey Radical are all rated for their conscious and clever lyrics, and their features complimenting the tone of the album. Meanwhile, US artist Tim Vocals helps to establish a darker mood on ‘Hop Out’. We also experience a more versatile Ocean Wisdom on Stay Sane: he jumps from upbeat songs like ‘Good Girl’, displaying unapologetic humour, to discussing sobering topics like the wrongfully convicted.
With Stay Sane dropping last month in the midst of the pandemic, Wisdom told Notion, ‘I had to read the room of the world. I don’t wanna look back in twenty years and be like, ‘‘Remember when there was a pandemic, and I just carried on talking about how cool I was?’’’. A testament to his word: Tracks like ‘Burna Boy’ (a play on Burna Boy’s 2018 single ‘ye’) and ‘Achey Bones’, which highlight the difficulties of street life, make the album a strong social commentary.
The most powerful moment on Stay Sane is the final song, ‘Can’t Breathe Either’. As one could guess, the title alludes to the last words of George Floyd, whose murder last May by police officer Derek Chauvin sparked the BLM Protests. Wisdom dwells upon the viral video that shook the world, rapping, “Like, look at that cop and where his knees are”. Wisdom not only reflects upon racial injustice in the US but draws our attention to issues in the UK referencing the mistreatment of the Windrush generation, the lack of black representation in Parliament and the fact that Prince Andrew hasn’t been charged for his alleged involvement in the Epstein case.
Yet, despite its striking moments, Stay Sane is flawed in the way that it, at points, trivialises weighty matters. Whilst ‘Drilly Rucksack’ covers serious topics (in the song Wisdom alludes to COVID and questions the government), the track’s childlike melody and playful imagery make the song, at times, feel gimmicky. It’s hard not to smile at the description of gunshot wounds as ‘hula hoop holes’.
Similarly, Wisdom gives track 7 the heavy title, ‘Racists’. Although he condemns them, hoping that they’ll “drop down dead”, throughout the track he boasts of material things such as pulling “up in a blacked out Rolls”. However, rapper Novelist provides a grounding for the track, striking more serious tones: ‘Nobody really wants their own mum to feel pain when their son is killed’. Perhaps the balance of humour with hard hitting lyrics makes the track easier to digest. But, when compared to ‘Hop Out’ and ‘Can’t Breathe Either’ it feels light-hearted.
Even so, like his past three albums, Stay Sane is definitely worth a listen. It’s inspiring to hear artists challenge authority where it’s at fault and Ocean Wisdom achieves this with his sharp tongue and ear for a good hook. Stay Sane really has a song for everyone: Those stung by love, those troubled by society, those who struggle with street life and those just looking to vibe. Given the diverse nature of this album, it has the potential to expand Ocean Wisdom’s appeal beyond his UK, urban fan base.