by Rachel Crowell
Norf Face, the first studio album featuring UK grime rappers Frisco, Jme, Shorty, and Capo Lee, is a strong representation of North London. The entire album packs a punch, bragging about the featured rappers’ fame and commenting on the British justice system. This piece of work is very similar to other rap groups’ collaborations, except every artist gets equal time throughout the short album. The group’s strength lies in their equal distribution of verses and socially conscious lyrics. Although there was no one leader who received more verses, Frisco’s style really shines through with clever rhymes and catchy hooks. He talks about tampons and Kinder eggs in his opening verses on the album and it flows smoothly. The weakest performance on the album is from Capo Lee – although grime rap is known for electronic soundscapes, he takes it too far, mostly rapping in choppy verses about video games and being on his phone.
The album alternates between individual rappers’ verses and group projects. The strongest songs include “Freezing,” “Baitest Sound,” “Frisco’s Pattern,” and “More.” In every song, the UK rappers brag about how successful they are in the grime scene, and how if you don’t know what grime is then you’re not on their level. They fully represent North London, but it is obvious that they plan to rule the grime scene. In the past, South London grime rappers have dominated the genre, but Frisco, Jme, Shorty, and Capo Lee are claiming the crown. Although the four artists want to gain recognition in the grime scene, it’s also important to recognize the nuances between American hip-hop and UK grime. Both can be braggadocious and describe the not-so-glamorous urban culture, but grime often displays different rhyme patterns and an electric beat since it stems from the garage and jungle music that was used at parties. Hip-hop producers normally mix samples and revamp to fit the current soundscape in popular music, such as 808 drum beats. An especially unique and remarkable feature that the Norf Face group adds to their lyrics is that they do not talk about their sexual “conquests” like some other American and UK rappers do. Frisco condemns men stalking women that are not interested in them and takes pride in getting girls that are interested in him, calling other guys’ actions perverted. Although this is a minor detail that they include in the song “Frisco’s Pattern,” it is just one example of how Frisco’s lyricism shines through the most in this collaboration, despite Norf Face demonstrating that the four rappers are equally able to hold the crown.
Frisco’s voice mixes well with the electronic beats that the producers lay down in every track. On his track, he modulates his voice to match up to the pattern in the beat of the song. This makes his rhyme flow better than other rappers’ “patterns,” like Capo Lee’s. Capo lacks the variation in his voice and instead emphasizes words in his flow, making it feel choppy. Frisco also raps in a socially conscious way and uses lyrics that relate better with his fans on streaming services. While Capo mostly raps about video games like Resident Evil, Frisco cleverly brags that he’s “got a lot of vibes on [his] Spotify” and that no one can ride on his “wave, that’s tidal.” These smooth verses make him seem more relatable, since almost everyone that listens to his content likely uses a streaming service to do so.
Every rapper brings his own personality to each song, but they also comment on bigger issues, such as the prejudice and police brutality present in the justice system. “Freezing” especially highlights how dangerous it is to be Black in the UK. Although some may assume that everything is getting better with the new spotlight shown on issues of police brutality from the Black Lives Matter protests this past year, cities are still “freezing” for Black men. The rappers recount how their moms would not let them out of their backyards, not because they would get themselves into trouble, but rather because trouble would find them. The streets are not safe for Black men and the system does not cater to them either, since many men are imprisoned on the basis of false charges. This song elevates the album because the group did not only choose to selfishly look for the title of the best in grime, but they also chose to use their platform to criticize disparities in society. This humbles the group and shows that they really are there to make art that people can listen to, learn from, and enjoy.