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Not many drill artists have been able to burst onto the scene with a sound as unique and catchy as Unknown T’s, but when considering his winning creative output since starting out as a teenager, this rapper never wanted to be part of the norm in the first place. At just 21 years-old, the Homerton lyricist has embarked on a rollercoaster of a career so far, establishing himself as a consistent provider of some of the UK’s hottest bars before he abruptly found himself behind them.
Charged with the murder of a man at a New Year’s Eve party in 2018, it seemed as though his potentially glistening career was destined to fizzle out into nothingness before he was exonerated and found to be not guilty back in February. His stretch in jail makes up just one of a complex array of themes that course the heart of debut mixtape ‘Rise Above Hate’. Given little opportunities by a system that sets up so many for failure during his younger life, Unknown T’s return to music illuminates a maturing and creative artist – polished in his sound but still abundantly poignant and heartfelt in his meaning.
In a teaser trailer for the new record, T articulated the substance of the inward-looking EP: “Rise Above Hate has a powerful meaning in the name itself, those who listen will understand the subliminal message.”
“This collection of music represents the shit I’ve been through…”
Marking his first significant project since being released, it would have been easy for the Homerton rapper to play it safe and stick to what he knows, but here we see someone who is eagerly choosing to be the pebble that splits the stream rather than the leaf that flows down it.
The first few tracks of the album remind us exactly what it is that has made Unknown T such a lucrative force over the last few years – powerful drill sculpted by a head-turning style of conviction and lyrical delivery. ‘Steppy’ and ‘Prison’ paint a vivid picture of the realities of street life and his run-ins with the law while simultaneously alluding to the mental toll it can take: “How many times have I read are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired?” he asks himself.
All too often with drill music, people have the tendency to hear its violent references and criticise it for brazenly promoting a certain way of life. This two-dimensional way of thinking is where records as complexly layered as ‘Rise Above Hate’ may be lost on some, however, don’t be mistaken, T’s new work is as self-reflective as any out there.
Intricately woven between his potent lyrics of angst and disdain towards a society that had all but abandoned him and an incarceration system which tried to hold him down, Unknown T makes a series of raw statements on himself, his past, and his future prospects going forward.
Following on from ‘Jail Call (Skit)’, a short phone conversation from behind bars where he points out the injustices against him, ‘SS Interlude’ does well to foreground T’s desire to place himself above other rappers. The seamless switch-up in style sees the hardened lyricist momentarily let down his guard as he sings a smooth melodic ballad.
“Sweet symphony, sometimes I struggle mentally, certain things were never meant to be,” he croons before breaking out into rap. We’ve previously seen artists such as Headie One wrestle out of the pre-set mould of what a drill artist can accomplish; ‘Rise Above Hate’ shows similar moments of new creative horizons being etched out in front of our very eyes.
The big-name features present on the record ensures the project’s star factor, with AJ Tracey on ‘Leave Dat Trap’, M Huncho on ‘Addicts’, Young T & Bugsey on ‘Main Squeeze’, and Young Adz on the infectious ‘LV’. Unknown T also links up with fellow Homerton rappers V9 and KO to shell over the string-based production of ‘AVEN9ERS’ – significant in the fact that the trio had never been on a track all at once before this.
Concluding the project, ‘Ambition’ contrasts with the dark and moody sound of the opener ‘Steppy’. What started off as a release of anger towards himself and his surroundings, T seems to finish the record with a sense of ambition and hope for the future. The album sees the 21-year-old purge his inner-most feelings through each individual track, resulting in a definitive record that is as raw as it is captivating.
Bouncing back from rock bottom with an indelible focus, Unknown T is set on using his hard-earned platform to raise the drill game to new heights.