South London legend finds renewal with his curatorial skill...

Giggs has always been an artist who walks his own path. The South London rapper draws on grime, dancehall, hip-hop, and more, spinning his own web while refusing to be pinned down. Indeed, while the tenuous UK genre road rap could have any of a number of meanings, in truth there’s only one valid definition: Giggs.

Ever-productive, the Peckham legend follows last year’s Top 10 smash ‘BIG BAD...’ with a new mixtape, a 16 track excursion that moves from afrobeats influence through to rolling trap production, bound together by rugged UK rap styles. It’s strong and diverse, and finds Giggs toying with a number of styles, teasing out fresh nuance from his character.

A work of cursive evolution, ‘Now Or Never’ can be outlined by those high profile collaborations. One of the country’s most influential MCs, it’s intriguing to hear a more soulful, introspective element to his art, such as ‘I’m Workin’, with vocals from BRIT Award winner Jorja Smith, or the appearance of Emili Sande as the counterpoint on album finale ‘It’s Hard’.

That’s not to suggest that ‘Now Or Never’ is some kind of introverted affair – boisterous, bolshy, and at times outright hilarious, this is Giggs at his most flamboyant. Album highlight ‘Changed Me’ is a supreme rap bouncer aided by A Boogie wit da Hoodie, while the startling dancehall-flecked ‘Everybody Dead’ makes room for a sensational performance from DeMarco.

Obongjayar stars on rugged workout ‘Don’t Be Shy’, while KYZE spices up the bruising rap juggernaut ‘100 Reps’. Perhaps the biggest surprise on the record, though – and something that even social media couldn’t leak in its build up – is Dave’s performance on the emphatic ‘Straight Murder’. The two ride on a spine-shattering beat, with the Streaham rapper amplifying his word play on something direct, and uncensored - “fuck that guy and his agenda...”

Indeed, the roll call of collaborators underlines Giggs’ status within UK music – few come with more clout, truth be told – but also his ability as a cultural curator. Colossal names such as Jorja Smith and Dave sit alongside Liverpool underground figure AyStar and Tiny Boost, with Giggs continually looking to what each artist can contribute on their own merits.

It’s the purity of his quest that makes ‘Now Or Never’ so absorbing. While not perfect – it’s 16 tracks could do with a little trimming, and the artwork is certainly eccentric – the project seems to tap into exactly what makes Giggs such a long-standing influence on British music. An artist with real magnetism, he’s able to draw certain sounds and collaborators into his orbit, while remaining at a tangent from passing styles and fading trends. Continually seeking aesthetic rejuvenation, Giggs emerges renewed on ‘Now Or Never’, a unique offering from a singular talent.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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