Occasionally musicians release albums so seminal that they re-draw the boundaries of their genre. Chaos 93′, from High Focus debutant Ocean Wisdom, is one of those albums. With its blend of machine gun double-time rap and Tyler-The-Creator-esque nonchalance, Chaos 93′ lies somewhere between the domains of grime music and arty, independent hip-hop. Like him or loathe him, Ocean Wisdom signals a paradigm-shift in UK Hip Hop, and Chaos 93′ is indicative of where the genre is heading.
Having been a work in progress since Ocean was sixteen, Chaos 93′ is a cumulative release of his music to date. The album opens with his breakthrough hit Walkin’ (now sitting on over a million views on YouTube), a brash, fast paced banger that introduces us to Ocean’s trademark double-time flow and irreverent imagery that characterise the album.
Splittin’ The Racket and Snakes & Blaggers reinforce Ocean’s flair for lyrical extravagance (munchin’ on a pasty playin’ football/ call me Gregg Beckham), before the album takes a turn for the grimier on High Street, an ode to Ocean’s hometown of Brighton & Hove, which is arguably one of the best tracks to come out of the UK in recent times. Other stand out tracks include the jazzy Imaginary, and the laid back and poetic 4U, on which Ocean shares emceeing duties with Jam Baxter.
Ocean Wisdom is an emcee that knows his roots and is proud of where he is from. Both Brighton and its local hip-hop scene get several shout-outs throughout the album, with Rum Committee luminaries such as Prince Kong featuring briefly in his music videos. He also wears his musical influences on his sleeve, with lyrics openly and unashamedly referencing artists like Buggsy, Jehst, Eminem and NWA. The fact that Ocean has signed with the independent label High Focus despite interest from major record labels shows he isn’t prepared to jump ship, and wants to give back to the scene which raised him. This is admirable and makes his music, and the references to his hometown, more endearing.
The production side of the album is handled by Dirty Dike, who, although best known for his cocky chaotic drug-addled public image, is actually a bloody good producer. Managing to blend sounds from grime, and both old and new schools of hip hop, Dike’s no-nonsense production fits effortlessly underneath Ocean’s cadence, creating a vibe that will please fans of all three genres.
Chaos 93′ also features an impressively diverse roster of talented guest performances. Lunar C, battle rap’s prodigal son, spits a verse on Gone – one of the albums more outstanding tracks containing the best hook of the release. Jam Baxter and The Four Owls also have notable features (on 4U and Real Smooth), and Klashnekoff, Foreign Beggars, Dike, Scissortongue and Remus comprise the rest of the guests, with verses scattered liberally throughout the release.
Perhaps the only drawback to Chaos 93′ is its length. At seventeen tracks long, it clocks up an impressively long listening time of over one hour fifteen minutes. Around a third of the way through the album there is a slight lull, before it picks up the pace again in the final half. Cutting the tracklist down may have resulted in a punchier release; however the quantity of tracks and variety of styles means that there is, in theory, something for everyone to enjoy.
The album finishes on a high note with Jungle, a track strongly reminiscent of the type of poetic independent hip-hop we have come to associate with groups like Odd Future. Ocean trades his supersonic flow for a lackadaisical and alliterative drawl, and proves that he is more than just a lyrical one-trick-pony. It works brilliantly, and provides a glimpse of a refreshing alternative to the weed, booze and drug themed releases that have come to characterise UK hip-hop (not that they aren’t fun – they are).
With Chaos 93′, Ocean Wisdom has created a release that will re-invigorate the UK hip-hop scene, and has given us a glimpse of a brighter future. We are only in February, but I strongly suspect I have just listened to the best UK hip-hop album of 2016, and one which may define the genre for years to come.
• Chaos 93′ is out NOW on High Focus Records. You can download the release here.