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If you we’re living in the UK between 2013 and 2015 and you do not know at least one song from Section Boyz, I genuinely cannot think of an excuse for you. The 6-man troupe made up of Swift, Inch, Littlez, Deepee, Knine and Sleeks from Thornton Heath, South London have come a long way in that time.
Section Boyz have returned in all but name, rebranding themselves to become Smoke Boyz. Section Boyz have been known to bring the UK rap/drill scene to new heights, as well as calling out to a new demographic of fans over the early course of their career. Sadly, legal battles over the ownership of the name “Section Boyz”, stifled their progress. If you want to hear more about this, I encourage you to watch the “Not For the Radio” (NFTR) interview on YouTube, where the group discusses this in depth, and explains their absence from music in a detailed manner.
Despite these issues, their latest album – ‘Don’t Panic II’ – was spontaneously released after that interview. One thing I will take from the interview in order to convey my thoughts on the album, is when they were asked if they feel they have “lost their place in the UK Scene” and will they struggle to find their place again. Sleeks, a member of the group, passionately replied that this is not even an issue worth being concerned about. You could almost hear the disgust in his voice that this question was even asked, which shows how confident and the rest of the group is in the legacy they left behind, and the new music they’ve had in store. I want you to keep this sentiment with you, as you read through this review, because Sleeks’ confidence was truly warranted.
Smoke Boyz could be described as a Jack-of-all-trades, but it would be a mistake to call them a master of none. ’1Xtra’ reminds of the versatility of the group, as they are not afraid to take on an instrumental with a higher BPM. After their take on More Fire Crew’s ‘Oi’, the beat produced by Rudekid gives a chance for the members with a “skippy” flow (Deepee, Sleeks and Littlez) to really show off.
Despite how so may have worried about how the ‘drill’ genre has changed in their absence, this album shows they have in fact mastered their own drill sound. ‘Section 6ixty’ shows that they are still veterans in the drill scene, as well as still retaining their love from the streets. Most importantly, it confirms an interesting theory. 1 in 10 drill uploads on PressPlay feature a variation of Swift’s flow. If you wonder why many of the hundreds of drill uploads sound so familiar in terms of the flows used, look no further: it was because Swift gave them a template to work from.
On the other hand, the ‘Ugly Faces Remix’ shows they can interact with the newest stars in the Drill scene. Whilst I thought the original was simply missing something I couldn’t put my finger on, the addition of Sleeks, Deepee and arguably the best duo act in Drill at the moment, creates an anthem which will appeal to the newer fans.
However, their drill sound does not require big features: ‘Let That Go’ is simply complete as a drill track. Swift has mastered coming out with good hooks, but MVP for this track goes to Knine; his irregular and lazy flow is often unappreciated, despite how invaluable it is on this track.
The emergence of Afro-Bashment and Afro -Swing as developing genres are probably the reason people have doubted the relevance of Section Boyz previously, and might now doubt the relevance of Smoke Boyz. On the contrary, after looking at his previous features (with Trillary Banks and Stefflon Don) and his contributions to this album, you will realise that this climate is perfect for one member: INCH.
It already helps that 1 in 5 rappers on Link Up TV have become clones of Inch in his absence, though most of them can’t pull of the Jamaican accent in the same way. On ‘F1’, ‘Can’t Breath’, ‘Outside’ and ‘Have You Seen Her’ – he is consistently the track MVP. Whether its on a hook alongside Belly Squad on ‘Outside’, or on a verse on the other three, Inch stands out in an over-populated genre of UK rap, where this style of rapping has been “rinsed”.
The NFTR interview shed light upon previous features and projects they have done individually in the group’s absence and this album shows the culmination of what they have individually learned; the member that has learned the most is Littlez. Whether the group has realized his potential from his individual features, or if he came to this revelation on his own is unsure, but the fact remains, Littlez is exceptional at delivering hooks, and this is proven on the track ‘Important Men’.
Despite all that I have said, there is one track that I would say is one to watch, and my personal favourite, ‘Ye Mon’. It’s a high octane sequel to previous release ‘Lock Arf’: it has the same structure, with Inch on the hook bouncing off Sleeks with a combination of the signature flows from the other 4 members. Everyone reading this should know what Lock Arf did to live shows. With the higher BPMs, which resemble the new age drill sound that LA Beats brings, I would enter the upcoming mosh pits with care.
Sadly, I’m going to have to end this review with an angry rant, simply because I’m like that annoying teacher that marks your work in school. Nothing will ever be perfect to me. I simply think this is my frustration with the melodic rapping we have been flooded by recently coming to the forefront. It bores me to the point where I almost unsubscribed from GRM Daily and Link Up TV, because it feels like 8 out of every 10 uploads for the last 2 years at least have been this style over and over again. So, let me be clear, this is my own bias against a style of UK Rap that I think is generic and overused. As a result, I think that ‘How Many Times’ and ‘Leave the Hood’ are both snore-fests that should have never been made – and have merely been shoe-horned in for relevance. It doesn’t highlight anything that is known and liked about any of the members and generally feels like a forced attempt collaborate with artists that have blown up the absence of Section Boyz to pander to the new audience that has emerged as a result. AJ Tracey and Nyge created a sound together which is simply too unique and doesn’t leave any way for Smoke Boyz to fit on the track ‘Leave the Hood’ which doesn’t sound awkward. D-Block Europe brings the same problem on ‘How Many Times’. But with my sour thoughts aside, I’m sure that same large audience loved exactly what I hated about these two tracks, and find the synergy to their tastes. Maybe just having the collaborations exist was enough to satisfy them.
In conclusion, my own personal bias stopped me from enjoying two songs on this album, but hopefully you can see why I had this album on repeat since it was released. Don’t Panic II is currently comfortably sitting in the iTunes top 20 in the charts, meaning Smoke Boyz are just as relevant as ever, and Sleeks might just be a fortune teller.