On No.6 Collaborations Project, Sheeran manufactures generic pop music that continues to ditch the artistry.
Once upon a time, Ed Sheeran was a competent artist. The come-up is very genuine contrary to popular knowledge, dating back to as far as 2005. Sheeran was releasing music independently in the form of EPs to establish a catalogue of cute acoustic songs. One of these EPs was the No. 5 Collaborations Project, an 8-track collection of songs featuring the finest of UK rappers, including Wiley, Ghetts, Wretch 32, P Money, and others. It was far from a cultural cash-grab, as all these rappers were more popular than the singer at the time. Ed Sheeran was a genuine fan of rap music, blending his style with the MCs to create a unique dose of acoustic hip hop. Eight years later, the same EP that landed him a record deal has received a sequel.
Unlike the No. 5 EP, No.6 brings Sheeran’s collaborators into his world of radio-friendly, cheesy pop music.
Since the success of the Divide album, it’s clear Sheeran’s label want more of what made “Shape of You” the biggest song in the world. The guitar has been binned in favour for every chart trend of 2019, alongside the brilliant songwriting that once existed in every song. Lead single “I Don’t Care” with Justin Bieber is a tropical plastic song about social awkwardness, a topic that’s not totally convincing coming from the biggest artists in the world (“Don’t think I fit in at this party / Everyone’s got so much to say”). The songwriting has become so surface-level that it’s hard to believe it is coming from the same man who wrote “The A Team”.
It’s clear that Ed Sheeran is trying to tailor songs to the style of the collaborator, but the efforts are relatively weak. The iconic pairing of Eminem and 50 Cent should result in one of the best songs of the decade. Instead, it results in the same cheesiness employed by Eminem’s recent albums. The Nate Dogg-inspired hook would be actually be good if sung by Nate Dogg, rather than the knock-off attempt of the performers. It is another case of pop rap lacking chemistry and authenticity.
The album pulls a few enjoyable songs out the bag. “Antisocial” with Travis Scott is musically intriguing and features an effortful performance by Scott compared to the effortless guest appearances he tends to make. J Hus steals the show on “Feels”, contributing a standout verse that fits well on the pop track. The back-to-back with Stormzy on “Take Me Back to London” is engaging, but could have used a better beat and a hook that wasn’t a blatant copy of American delivery.
Weaks hooks are scattered all over No.6 Collaborations. Hence it is refreshing to hear a decent one on “Nothing On You”. The verse from Dave isn’t his strongest, partly due to the difficulty of flowing on unorthodox beat, and its length.
No.6 Collaborations is a shadow of the sort of songwriting and compositions Ed Sheeran so effortlessly conjured throughout his early career. The weak pop tunes inspire to be great but result in a glorified DJ Khaled album, tailored for the charts and lacking all the artistry.
Rating: 4 / 10
Best tracks: “Antisocial”, “Feels”, “Nothing on You”