I don’t like people telling me what to do” Awate raps on Wake Up Aneur­in Bevan, the fifth track off his debut Hap­pi­ness LP.

Of course, res­ist­ance is a theme Awate revis­its many times in his music — his record label is even called Quite Defi­ant Records. His music is known for its sur­gic­al con­dem­na­tions of poverty, racism and inequal­ity and he’s also a pro­lif­ic act­iv­ist and writer, focus­ing mainly on the mar­gin­al­isa­tion of poor com­munit­ies. It shouldn’t be too sur­pris­ing that his debut LP largely con­cerns res­ist­ance, how­ever Hap­pi­ness, des­pite its title, pos­sibly finds Awate at his angri­est.

Awate ori­gin­ally arrived in the UK as a refugee from Erit­rea via Saudi Ara­bia. Once in the UK, he settled in Cam­den. He released his first EP Shine Ancient in 2016, and has toured with Lowkey and sup­por­ted Jay Elec­tron­ica, Big Daddy Kane and Yasi­in Bey (AKA Mos Def). He was also named one of the sev­en most inspir­ing people in Lon­don by the Even­ing Stand­ard.

Hap­pi­ness is a cul­min­a­tion of two years of work. The album was writ­ten when Awate was out on bail dur­ing that time, fight­ing four court cases against the police which he even­tu­ally won. Des­pite the stress­ful peri­od, the son­ic ele­ments of Hap­pi­ness don’t become gloomy too often. Open­ing track Jew­els is a fun and bright upbeat track with big horns and won­der­ful vocal lay­er­ing. Pro­duc­tion of Hap­pi­ness is handled by Turk­ish of Dcypha, who on standout tracks like Bianco, leads with beau­ti­ful drums that wouldn’t feel out of place in clas­sic jazz con­cert.

In fact, the album owes a lot to clas­sic­al sounds, gen­er­ally shy­ing away from en vogue pop, trap, drill or EDM ele­ments. For instance, Wake Up Aneur­in Bevan car­ries a strong funk bass­line, while the pro­duc­tion on Bru­tal­ism is most likely an homage to the lux­uri­ous orches­tral sounds heard in 90s and early 00s mafioso rap. Hap­pi­ness, for the most part, plays with the diversity in sounds well. Bianco is one of the most inter­est­ing tracks in terms of pro­duc­tion and almost sounds like the instru­ment­al of a 1960s sit­com theme song. Although rue­fully short, the dar­ing­ness of the pro­duc­tion makes it one of the standout songs of the LP. The lyr­ics in Bianco mark an inter­est­ing con­trast against the mirth­ful pro­duc­tion, as Awate details his frus­tra­tion with inner-city life.

Lyr­ic­ally Awate is on good form on the LP. Whilst there are stand­ard rap boasts peppered through­out, the more fas­cin­at­ing aspects of his lyr­i­cism are when his world­view shines through. The pic­ture he paints def­in­itely won’t garner uni­ver­sal approv­al. Fun­da­ment­ally, it’s an anti-colo­ni­al and anti-author­it­ari­an music­al pro­ject. This isn’t a new theme in hip-hop (rap on a glob­al scale isn’t fond of the police or gov­ern­ment), but what makes Hap­pi­ness remark­able is the level of anger Awate dir­ects at the police and gov­ern­ment insti­tu­tions. Let’s be clear, he’s not mind­lessly rant­ing, but instead he’s offer­ing an explor­a­tion of his philo­sophies on soci­ety as he decon­structs some of the more odi­ous ele­ments. On The Ghetto, he describes Lon­don as being a place “where the police are plague on our com­munit­ies”. An Inter­mis­sion for the Struggle is a pas­sion­ate and wrath­ful take­down of neo-colo­ni­al­ism and white suprem­acy, with Awate rap­ping “everything of ours you steal, our know­ledge, our oil, our dia­monds”.  It will undoubtedly polar­ise people – I can’t ima­gine the main­stream polit­ic­ally cent­rist or con­ser­vat­ive listen­er really vibing with the lyr­ic­al ele­ments of the LP. Which is fine, because it’s clearly not made for them. Truth be told, it raises ques­tions about wheth­er some lines are hyper­bol­ic or wheth­er they are a dir­ect state­ment of his opin­ion. In any case, unpack­ing the them­at­ic ele­ments of Hap­pi­ness is enjoy­able as it demands exam­in­a­tion and if great art pro­vokes dis­cus­sion, then: mis­sion accom­plished.

Bey­ond the them­at­ic aspects of Hap­pi­ness, Awate is a tal­en­ted word­smith who crafts vivid imagery in his verses. Bru­tal­ism mar­ries excep­tion­al pro­duc­tion with hon­est storytelling about the harsh real­it­ies of grow­ing up in a rough envir­on­ment. The second verse is haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful and evoc­at­ive.

Truth be told there aren’t many down­sides to Hap­pi­ness. The raw­ness of Hap­pi­ness keeps it a strong pro­ject and as a debut, it places Awate in an advant­age­ous pos­i­tion to artic­u­late his artistry and eth­os. Per­haps ACAB shouldn’t have made the final cut, as although it tries to be exper­i­ment­al it doesn’t feel like it con­trib­utes greatly to the entirety of the album nor stands out enough on its own. Oth­er than this the them­at­ic lay­ers and pro­duc­tion makes for a fas­cin­at­ing listen­ing exper­i­ence, one that offers good replay value.

Grab your copy of the LP and find out where you can catch AWATE live here

Don’t for­get to have a read of our inter­view with AWATE where he dis­cusses the inspir­a­tion behind his music! 


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Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa

Mark is a South Lon­don based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He’s also an MMA and his­tory enthu­si­ast who tries to keep his love of animé under wraps.

About Mark Mukasa

Mark Mukasa
Mark is a South London based writer and avid fan of all things hip hop. He's also an MMA and history enthusiast who tries to keep his love of anime under wraps.