To be a conscious rapper is a challenging task. It has to do with balancing musicality with presenting interesting ideas. Many rappers have failed in this pursuit.
Therefore, when I was asked to review Potent Whisper’s new ep, New Radical, I feared that it might fall short. That it might be nothing more than recycled Lowkey or Akala. However I was presently surprised to find that Potent Whisper does indeed bring something new and unique to the table.
Firstly on a musical level, he does not limit himself to a 90bpm old school hip-hop vibe that makes the listener say ‘not again…’. Instead he embraces a range of electronic landscapes that are a reflection of the contemporary age. On the four-track EP, we hear tracks that are influenced by Grime, Trip-Hop and chilled-trap. Although the tracks range in genre, they fit neatly together and flow easily into one another.
Secondly, although we’ve heard similar messages in conscious rap, Potent Whisper has his own brand of sending them home to the listener. Rather than placing himself on a moral high ground where he preaches truth to the audience, he places himself in the middle of the confusion. He brings our attention to what he believes to be the impending doom all around us. But at times he gives his opinions on how to deal with these issues and how to be a better person.
The Ep opens with a grime track called ‘Deep Cuts’. It comes as a heavy introduction to the sorts of themes and sounds that we will hear in the following tracks. At the start, we hear Potent Whisper mutter ‘they never loved you, they only fucked you’ as the track builds over a crescendo of horn and brass samples. The drums drop suddenly and he raps rapidly about building an army and ‘baddin’ the one percent’. Here we start to realise who he is referring to when he says ‘they’. The lyrics explain how oppressed we are and how the system is continually abusing us. To great effect, a distorted church choir sample enters the mix, adding to the already intense sound of the track. Whisper’s intention seems to be to shock the listener and remind them of the harsh reality.
The next tracks, ‘Us, the Workers’ and ‘Like David, like May’ follow on from these themes and bring them closer to home by presenting us with more emotional imagery. ‘I wake up and make love to hardship’, Whisper says on ‘Us, the workers’. He talks about depression, underpayment and his frustrations with the government.
The production on this song reminds me of Trip-Hop. It is slow, spaced out and haunting. ‘The political doom is looming above all of our heads’, it seems to say. On ‘Like David, like May’, however, it feels like the track is continually rising to a drop that never comes. You expect the bassline and drums to get more complex, but it never happens.
‘Remember Love’, the last song, stands out on the EP and presents the listener with ideas of hope and peace. After Potent Whisper has adequately shocked you with the hard truths of the world, he reminds you that love is key in dealing with life.
As he raps in a more consoling tone, string instruments play underneath. Church choir samples make another appearance but this time they hit high notes and present a feeling of transcendence. A female vocalist comes in on the hook, telling us to let love hold us. Her voice is so full and heavenly that we willingly accept her words and indeed remember that feeling of love. It is then that we realise that Potent Whisper is deeper than what we may have previously thought. He is not here only to remind us of the political situation but also to remind us of what we should be fighting for.
New Radical is available to stream on all major platforms and available to download exclusively from bandcamp: www.potent-whisper.bandcamp.