2020 has been a bit of a sticky one still, but one of the few silver linings of this most horrible year has been the regular output of excellent, innovative UK Rap. At the forefront of all that excellence is Coventry’s Pa Salieu, boldly announcing himself as a “Gambian brudda, Mr K. Kunte” over the blaring siren-like synths of Jevon-produced ‘Frontline’ in January, with a commanding flow which instantly grabs your attention.
Pa’s frontline is Hillfields, the neglected pocket of Coventry where he came up, after spending most of his early childhood in Gambia. It’s the backdrop for his stunning debut mixtape ‘Send Them To Coventry’. The 15-track project is a musical kaleidoscope, fusing elements of afro-swing, dancehall, grime, and rap. Sonically, it speaks to the fluidity of Black sounds. Thematically, it addresses the importance of preserving our sense of self in unjust circumstances. Underpinning Pa’s lyricism is an unshakeable pride in his Gambian heritage, from which he draws strength throughout the project.
‘Send them to Coventry’ opens with an over-proof dose of raucous energy, rooted in Caribbean dancehall. ‘Block Boy’ is blessed with an infectious hook while Pa’s verses move from the defiant (“Bust gun, dodge slugs, got touched, skipped death”) to the reflective (“I'm compensating mommy's pain before my soul flies, Many brothers lost life, tryna get by”). These disarming, sudden moments of reflection are one of the tape’s recurring themes.
The dancehall connection remains intact on the Boy Boy-assisted ‘No Warnin’. Pa’s West African inflections contrast nicely with Boy Boy’s effortless Trini vocals. A stretched out hook and subtle key change in the track’s second half switches the mood from icy gunman chat to something a little warmer. And while ‘Over There’ leans more towards Grime sonics, the influence of Vybez Kartel is clear in the pacing and patterns of Pa’s delivery.
‘Flip, Repeat’ is powerful, straight talking Rap, elevated by Chucks & Honeywood6’s cinematic production and Pa’s smooth auto-tuned hook. He breaks down the realities of his past life with clarity (“I did it for my living, now they call me villain”). Chilly cut ‘Informa’ follows. Over the production’s gloomy keys, M1llionz offers a typically vivid street tale which brings the best out of Pa, who never loses sight of himself, despite the harshness of his come-up in Coventry (“Darkest one, I came from the greats”).
There’s a Scarface-like feel to Felix Jones and AoD’s 80s-style synths on ‘More Paper’. Again Pa excels in switching vibes, from calling out “half hearted blammers” in the first verse, to a moving reflection on the death of his close friend AP in the second verse (“Pain turns to anger when I’m reminiscing”).
The uproarious energy of ‘My Family’ remains undefeated. The brooding Fanatix-produced anthem can barely contain the combined force of Pa and BackRoad Gee. The chemistry between two of the UK’s most exciting rappers is nuclear. Maybe it's a good thing that clubs are closed at the moment because if and when this goes off in the dance, it will take head-tops clean off. – The project downshifts a gear after the high-octane workout of ‘My Family’, closing with a pair of tracks that symbolise Pa’s mantra of self-love and preservation.
‘B***K’ is both an indictment of anti-Blackness in the Wild West and an expression of Black pride. “I come from warriors, I know my past,” Pa declares over a West African folk melody. On Mahalia-assisted ‘Energy’ Pa transcends, breaking down the importance of knowing your own worth. Over airy, soft synths he raps, “Crown on my head, I was born shining, they put us in the dirt so we keep dying, I’ve died a hundred times and I keep fighting.” It’s this fierce refusal to be buried by a system shaped to fail him which has taken Pa from the frontline of his block to where he stands today, at the pinnacle of UK Rap.
Words: Robert Kazandjian
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