Drake did the hip-hop world a disservice when he bequeathed UK-grime artist Skepta the solo cut “Skepta Interlude” in 2017. Track 10 on his More Life playlist, the cut was the United States’ formal introduction to the oft-heard, seldom respected sounds of grime, the preeminent focal point in British hip-hop.
Grime has taken off in recent years – artists like Wiley and Skepta have earned international acclaim after modest beginnings in the mid-aughts, while Bugzy Malone was a centerpiece in the 2019 action-comedy The Gentleman. The genre has become synonymous with British rap, despite the latter being an umbrella term, featuring a substantial scene that plays right at home next to hip-hop’s New York roots.
Rapper Phoenix da Icefire and producer Husky Brown look to change the status quo of the UK scene with their joint album Panacea. Released on May 5 by New Dawn Records, the album is a multipurpose, multifaceted approach to hip hop, undermining not only the conventionally accepted UK sound, but also the expectations of rappers amidst a burgeoning coronavirus crisis.
As artists continually react to the pandemic, hosting home-based concerts, or pushing up their album release dates to accommodate entertainment starved fans, Phoenix and Brown engage with a similarly reactive energy, empowering listeners to take ownership of their lives while they can.
“One day you’re gonna wake up, and there won’t be any time to do the things you’ve always wanted/ Do them now,” Phoenix interrupts partway through “Shake Things Up.” The pandemic has led many to wile their days away online – once carefully denoted calendars have quickly unfurled into monthly quadrants simply labeled “Today.”
But Panacea is more than a timely attempt to capitalize off a raging health crisis. Over the album’s 52-minute run time, Phoenix and Brown are offering up a concentrated serum of hip-hop nostalgia. Brown’s kick drums and strolling samples engage his take on New York’s low-lying hip-hop swagger, providing a welcomed variety of boom bap cuts along with soulful jams like “Don’t Doubt Yourself” and “Life is Magic.”
Phoenix’s aptitude for navigating Brown’s cinematic samples isn’t a new-found talent. For the better part of the last decade he’s been rubbing shoulders with authentic, New York talent. His 2016 album, The Quantum Leap enlisted the help of Long Island native Keith Murry, while his 2017 single “Do My Ting” bopped with Brooklyn energy from a Cormega feature.
Despite its localized influences, Panacea is squarely focused on a worldly agenda. Bars on “Veganite” and “The Humans are Coming” detail the duo’s loss of faith in Earth’s inhabitants, pillaging natural resources until reserves run dry. “As we invest in destruction, corruption is rife” Phoenix cries on “The Humans are Coming,” backed by Brown’s chaotic mix of overlapping beats.
The environmental reset that is taking place amidst the COVID-19 catastrophe couldn’t be better timed to coincide with the call to action on Panacea. Whether by coincidence or concerted effort, Phoenix and Brown see a remedy for the man-made ills of society.
Panacea is now available on all streaming platforms.