Review: ‘Utopia’

On his debut commercial mixtape, M Huncho continues to let the music do the talking.

Writing an introduction on the history of M Huncho is not easy. That’s because there is no history to report. The elusive artist has spent his 2-year career in anonymity by wearing a balaclava in every music video, freestyle and public appearance, now trading the balaclava for a custom mask. The results of this tactic is that the music speaks for itself. Huncho’s woozy vocals uniquely form a style that he likes to call “trapwave”, practically singing his way through bars on infectious singles such as “Elevation” and “Calm Days’. Now signed to Island Records, the lone wolf follows up his breakthrough EPs with a commercial mixtape.

Utopia demonstrates that M Huncho hones melody the best out of any ‘rapper’ in the UK, using his distinctive voice to deliver sticky hooks and verses for the majority of the mixtape.

While a handful of UK artists mimic rather than innovate American trap, M Huncho puts his own spin on the diluted genre with exceptional results throughout the first half of the project. Just like with his EPs, the songs on Utopia never go overboard in production, consistently complimenting Huncho’s auto-croons. Songs like “Rock Bottom” and “Tranquility” carry cinematic qualities that are lowkey in sound but are exemplars of M Huncho’s style. The minimal “Tranquility” is a psychedelic call for peace, backed by the infectious refrain  (“Tranquillity yeah is all I need, yeah, transparency, yeah, is all I see”). Its production is subtly influenced by electronica music to go alongside the trap 808s, a rare combination of musical elements for a UK artist.

The finest refrains of Utopia belong to the singles of the project. Lead single “Birds” abridges the qualities of the trap crooner through its two-part structure, beginning with a silky couplet that should have been the hook of the entire song (“Stress on my mind but I don’t show it / Cash around me and imma blow it”). Its transition turns Huncho in his rapping element, which takes some time to get used to as the first third of the song leaves the listener wanting more. Once excused, it is evident “Birds” was carefully crafted by Huncho and producer Quincy. The same can be said for “Ocho Cinco”, boasting another contagious hook that is smooth as satin.

Smooth is especially the case for “Broken Bottles”, a collaboration with North-West London singer Sharna Bass. The song is outright R&B; not a single 808 within earshot. Huncho’s vocals compliment the production, pulling off a genuine R&B performance that some outright-R&B artists are unable to achieve. Sharna Bass provides beautiful vocals towards the end of the cut, wrapping up a collaboration that would not make sense on paper until executed as such. It is an easy track to dismiss from the tracklist, but deserves its praise.

Parts of the mixtape fall into ‘album cuts’ territory, toning down the calibre of hooks in favour of cruise control. “Where’s Wally?” boats a quotable refrain (“You can go ask somebody”), while the familiar flutes of “That Ain’t It” accompanies Huncho’s strongest rapping performance on the mixtape. These tracks don’t match the replay value of the singles but add to the consistency of Huncho and his sound.

It is hard to ignore that Utopia misses some of the soul from Huncho’s 48 Hours EP, particularly some variation in production to regale a few trap monotonies. Nevertheless, Utopia takes pride in cohesion and quality with no skips and plenty melody for 44 minutes. Utopia proves that Huncho is not in a league of his own, but his own universe.

Rating: 7.5 / 10

Favourite tracks: “Birds”, “Ocho Cinco”, “Tranquility”, “Rock Bottom”, “Where’s Wally?”, “Check Out”, “That Ain’t It”, “Broken Bottles”

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