For years now, critics have been pontificating about and lamenting the "death of grime." To some extent, they have a point; grime's mainstream buzz has all but died out, attentions have turned toward other UK genres, and scene stalwarts like Dizzee Rascal and Wiley (for the most part) have shifted gears and started crafting more radio-friendly ventures. That said, while commercial grime has been undergoing a sort of identity crisis, a new generation of badmen has been bubbling in the underground. Royal-T (a.k.a. Mark Taylor) has made a name for himself as one of this movement's rising stars, and now, he's releasing his debut full-length.
Following a self-released EP in 2008, Royal-T truly burst onto the scene in 2009 with the 8-bit-tinged 1UP or Shatap EP on No Hats No Hoods. Eventually, he was taken under the wing of fellow grime upstarts Elijah & Skilliam, whose Butterz label released last year's energetic "Orangeade" and its accompanying EP. Royal-T's productions have even garnered him plaudits from the renowned RinseFM, where he now hosts a weekly show. (Those looking to further sample his DJ stylings are also advised to check the exclusive podcast he recently put together for XLR8R.) Rinse has also tapped the young producer for the latest installment of its Rinse Presents series, meaning that the debut album from Royal-T will be slotted alongside efforts from previous series contributors Roska and Brackles. Without question, it's a big step for him.
Just in case there were any doubts regarding his intentions, Royal-T immediately makes his mission known with the militant stomp and bass squelches of album opener "Cruel to Be Kind," in which guest MC P Money's call-and-response hook touts "a new generation of grime." For the most part, it's a mantra that Royal-T sticks to throughout the album, creating 10 tracks of what can ostensibly be considered grime, albeit a colorful variant that dabbles with a diverse sonic palette and includes elements of old-school garage, dubstep, and funky. The record boasts a litany of guests aside from P Money, as well; "Music Box," which juxtaposes twinkling chimes with a fat, purple-toned bassline, is a classic grime-inspired collaboration with genre heavyweight Terror Danjah, and the Roska-featuring "Work Your Body" seems all but destined for radio, club, and mix spots. "Music Please" (whose "Devil Mix" was featured on the Orangeade EP) is a perfect example of the new grime sound that Royal-T and the Butterz crew have championed; with its high-energy beat dominated by claps, a gurgling, rumbling bassline, and MC Merky Ace's tough-guy delivery, the track seems right at home rattling a trunk or filling a dancefloor.
Despite the amount of collaborative material, many of Rinse Presents: Royal-T's most exciting moments arise from the producer's solo work. Royal-T often includes nods to other styles of electronic music into his production; single "Inside the Ride" channels old-school 2-step and garage beats beneath its low-end growl, while the high-pitched synth whines, 2-step drums, and skittering hi-hats of "Gully Funk" meld together to form an oddly infectious fusion of '90s G-Funk, garage, and dubstep. On "Missing Aurora," Royal-T even lays down a wispy and ethereal pad that recalls melancholy future-garage sounds. "Space Cowboy" finds Royal-T showing off his chops, as guitar strums give way to an earth-shaking grime instrumental.
The LP does have its weaker moments, namely "You're Saved," a radio-friendly crossover collaboration with songstress Ruby Lee Ryder, and "Don't Call Me Baby," which is actually quite catchy on its own, though it ultimately pales in comparison to "Work Your Body" and "Music Please," the two tracks it is sandwiched between. However, despite these shortfalls, Rinse Presents: Royal-T is a solid full-length debut for the budding producer, and radiates a certain charm through its sincere portrayal of new grime as a versatile genre that's able to cater to a variety of listeners.