Unless you’re a real UK Rap head, it’s quite likely that January’s icy ‘Only if you Knew’ was your introduction to the powers of Dutchavelli. The Rymez-produced drill cut showcases both Dutch’s distinctive, gravelly tone (like he stirs crushed glass into his cup of Hennessey) and his densely packed, detailed bars. Cutting an imposing figure in the accompanying visuals, which have amassed over 22 million views on YouTube, he exudes supervillain energy in a lavish burgundy coat.
March’s jumpy follow-up ‘Surely’ followed suit; say its infectious hook 5 times in the mirror before you go to bed and bad gyals will appear. Add a dominant feature on Tion Wayne’s ‘I Dunno’, one of the standout tracks of 2020, and Dutch had already positioned himself as a UK Rap heavyweight to be reckoned with. His debut mixtape ‘Dutch from the Fifth’ goes beyond that, elevating him to the very top of the game.
Much of the project is powered by the supervillain energy that grabbed listeners’ attention in January, with a vibe as cold as Hackney Marshes on a frosty morning. Dutch’s formative years spent in Rotterdam absorbing the work of US Rap legends have had a clear impact on his writing. Across the tape he paints the realities of his old life in Upper Clapton (E5, the Fifth) with a fine brush, taking Drill into super-lyrical territory.
Fanatix-produced ‘Kaka’ is a real standout, taking Dr Dre’s sun-soaked ‘Xxplosive’ and turning the temperature down to deep freeze. ‘Ching-Splash’ is another sub-zero cut. The production’s dark synths have a distorted feel to them. It’s like being on a ghost-train and Dutch is in full control, taking you on a claustrophobic tour of past horrors and “countless drillings”.
There’s little glamour to be found in the world Dutch describes; his truths are ugly and unfiltered. But he tells them with skilful finesse that keeps you engaged. He’s a real barring man. Prison portrait ‘Segregation’ is so vivid that you feel like you’re on the wing with him: “Segregation 13 weeks, my neighbour doing a protest banging his door, won’t let me sleep.”
M1llionz-assisted ‘Cool With Me’ is a haunting, no-nonsense street diary with two of UK Rap’s emerging great storytellers at their very best. The Birmingham wordsmith is the perfect sparring partner for Dutch, blending dark humour into his nonchalant west-midlands drawl that contrasts nicely with Dutch’s own forceful, thunderous delivery: “seen cats marching through town holding magazines like they’re having a protest.”
Flourishes of nuance on the tape point towards Dutch’s growing artistry. ‘Never Really Mine’ is a softer offering, in which he moves on from a failed-relationship with a dignified maturity, over a floating production full of soft keys and choir-like vocal loops. ‘I’ll Call You Back’ explores the pain and strain incarceration puts on relationships. Dutch has spent more than a minute staring at the four walls of a cell and the rawness in his voice comes from a real place. Coupled with a moving piano melody, the track carries emotional weight.
‘Zero Zero’ is a fitting finale to what is an excellent project. There’s a boss-like mafioso texture to the production. You can imagine Dutch kicked back in a plush leather armchair, burning blunt in hand as he reflects on the gains and risks of his drug-dealing past, leaving no stone unturned: “Dutch, I don’t need no locksmith, gotta do the wrong thing just to get right, put the brick in the presser and lock it.” The track feels like the end of a chapter in a ‘Godfather’ novel, closing with a poignant voice-note from Dutch’s late friend and manager Fox.
It’s a reminder for us, and perhaps him too, of how far he’s come from those bandoes, pedal-bike drills and jailhouse blocks.
Words: Robert Kazandjian
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