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Central Cee: 23 reviews – The debut of the London rapper tells of an irresistible rise to fame | The music

Aamidst the bluster about Khabib, the opening track from Central Cee’s debut album, lurks the phrase, “I’ve been on the charts for 18 weeks.” The track – named after an undefeated Russian mixed martial arts fighter – is a rare understatement. The London rapper spent 18 weeks in the Top 10 alone: ​​he’s actually been in the singles chart for 97 weeks since his first crossover hit, Loading, arrived in late 2020.

By anyone’s metric, Central Cee has indeed had a very strong 2021: album gold for his debut mixtape, Wild West; six hit singles – eight if you count his collaboration with D-Block Europe and his appearance on a remix of Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits – and three Brits nominations. Thanks to a bespoke guest spot from a man from FKA twigs, he even found himself on the soundtrack of Kingsman’s latest film, rarely known for boosting the British trap.

Central Cee: 23 album cover

This isn’t to underestimate the years 23-year-old Oakley Caesar-Su has spent developing his craft – he started slathering his voice in Auto-Tune before moving on to a more music-oriented sound. the drill – to suggest that his real success has happened very quickly. You can hear it in 23’s lyrics, which are full of memories of his pre-fame life that still seem to have happened just “the other day.” One minute he’s getting gassed in the crowd at the Wireless festival — apparently for the crime of “attempting to run the party,” which probably wasn’t the precise wording of the arrest form — the next he’s plays on the main stage both Saturday and Sunday.

Central Cee: Khabib – video

If you’re wondering how he did it, 23 provides some intriguing insights. As a rapper, he’s got a powerful flow and can turn a line – “I had no money / I wasn’t embarrassed / I’m hitting the road in my Toyota Yaris” – but the lyrics tend to stick quickly to the usual topics: a difficult upbringing (kicked out of the house at 14, left school without GCSEs); a life of crime before rap; bragging tempered by bursts of affectionate regret, as on Ungrateful, which expresses the desire to “turn the page…counter-clockwise, burn the sage”; success and its associated quarrels and disadvantages. He briefly steps out of character on Retail Therapy, where he expresses a desire to connect with his “feminine energy” while shopping and gets a tick from his mother for being “materialistic,” but for the most part he deals with life. ‘expected well done rather than creating surprises.

But 23 also shows how good Central Cee is at making records, not just writing. There are a lot of very strong musical ideas on display, some of them the work of producer Young Chencs, whose signature sound is all over the album, literally: you’re never far from a female voice announcing who has produces the rhythm. Retail Therapy’s hook takes a sax snippet from Hank Crawford’s 1973 jazz album Wildflower and subjects it to the kind of fast-paced treatment common in early ’90s hardcore rave: the result is haunting and unique. Just before it ends, Air BnB’s backing suddenly changes from just lifting the electric piano of a 70s soft rock track and into the 70s soft rock it sampled, while Central Cee continues to rap. The brief Terminal 5 is based on another unexpectedly great jazzy sample, this time from a tattered trumpet band. Elsewhere, the idea of ​​borrowing from PinkPantheress’ Just for Me on Obsessed With You is inspired, and not just because it guaranteed the track – released as a single in September – extensive coverage on TikTok, where PinkPantheress is a standout. The sound of the original — essentially a helium-shot, weirdly unsettling early 2000s garage-pop cut — is a perfect counterpoint to the rapper’s vocals.

The best title is perhaps the most unexpected: Eurovision, on which Central Cee brings together a phalanx of guests, his compatriot from Shepherd’s Bush A2anti joined by two French, Italian and Spanish rappers. In a sense, it’s a risk to give away a large chunk of a track to names that are essentially unknown in the UK and performing in their native language (although it may advance him into their national rap scenes fiercely respective competitions). But it really pays off: Milan’s Rondodasosa, who Central Cee guested with last year on a single, is a particularly striking find, a furious, gruff voice rapping in a mix of Italian and English. The effect is subtly different, yet firmly rooted in tradition: much like the rest of 23.

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