Ard Adz’s veteran status comes full circle on his commercial debut.
In the British rap scene, there are few artists as overlooked as Ard Adz. Emerging at the start of the decade alongside long-time collaborator Sho Shallow, Ard Adz is a name that mainstream audiences have never been exposed to. Adz proved to be a formidable figure in the underground rap scene that was run by the tightly-knit crews of Brixton, London. Since going solo, EPs like Call Me Dirty and Hard 2 Smile have displayed Adz’s loyalty to traditional rap and lyrical substance while maintaining his rebellious grit. Adam, Adz’s debut studio album, seven years since his breakthrough, will hope to flourish the fruits of his labour in a scene that often leaves those behind that do not follow the musical trend.
Despite his underground veteran status, Adam exerts the same hunger showcased at the very start of his career. The 19-track album is a musical autobiography, summarising the thoughts of Ard Adz as he soul-searches for the route to a better life.
For the majority of the album, Adam stays true to the style and sound of Ard Adz. Evident from the intro, “In & Out”, the freestyle structure allows Adz to confess his worries like a diary entry without the assistance of a distracting hook. The format is followed up on tracks like “Kenny Freestyle”, delivering unfiltered bars that possess a personal attachment to Ard Adz’s current position in comparison to his past life.
The freestyling is formidable, though Adam shows Ard Adz can also construct a conventional song. “Still Do Road” and “Movie” incorporate memorable hooks to support Adz’s verses, which are more successful when rapped rather than sung. Quoteables are in abundance that embellish hooks for tracks like “Outta Here” (“Blud I can’t sing, I gotta rap my way out of ‘ere”), carrying the same rags-to-riches grit that the accompanying verses promote.
Lyrically, Adam explores personal principles of loyalty, freedom, religion and nostalgia of hard times. However, the central theme of Adam is Adz’s respect for his mother. Bars dedicated to his mother are scattered throughout the album, even emphasised on the album cover. “Daddy weren’t there so God gave a man the best mum / Mum’s a real soldier, mum’s like a dad to me, a bredrin and a older / Mum was like a jacket when the world was gettin’ colder”, he says on the aforementioned “Kenny Freestyle”. Other lines involve apologies to his mother for his past behaviour. There is a sense of regret and shame, illustrating the transparency in Adz’s reflection and the necessity of owning up to ones mistakes.
In 2016, Ard Adz discovered the style of production that would go on to become his signature choice of beat. Producers such as Maniac embed chopped vocal samples with piano keys that is reminiscent of Kanye West’s earlier production. The formula may seem redundant when paying close attention (i.e. “Still Do Road” vs. “Big Lesson”), but nevertheless is pristine production that fits Adz’s introspective style of rapping perfectly.
The standout cut is the penultimate track, “Unwritten Bars”. Apparent from its title, the hookless song is the best display of introspection of the album, with the slurring production amplifying Adz’s stream of consciousness that covers topics of imprisoned friends, death, hope and one-liners such as “See the bullet flying out the gun / Bruddas tryna run, told my bullet better go fetch.”
Compared to the EPs, Adam would have been improved if tracks like “Have You Ever” and “Smile” were omitted in exchange for singles like “Realer Than Most”, “What Have I Become” and “Call Me Dirty”. As some of Adz’s best songs in recent years, they deserved album placement rather than on EPs, although were instrumental in maintaining Adz’s buzz.
If there’s one quality Adam deserves credit for, is its integrity. Ard Adz’s principles are clearly important to him and he thrives off abiding to them. Through the backdrop of mellow production, Ard Adz gracefully summarises hardships that results into one of the best UK rap albums of the year. Adam is a diary of a life that has plenty more pages to fill.
Rating: 8 / 10
Best tracks: “Unwritten Bars”, “Kenny Freestyle”, “Uncut”, “Outta Here”, “Man of the House”, “Mama Don’t Cry”, “In & Out”