Stefflon Don – Island 54

The Birmingham artist fashions a party haven that mostly adheres to a carnival-flavoured formula...

Despite having already ticked off much of what you’d expect to see on most musicians’ bucket lists, Stefflon Don just now delivers her long-gestating debut full-length. As she pre-emptively commemorates a decade in the game, the Birmingham singer-rapper churns out a 20-track project that dances across traditionally black soundscapes. Steff commences her party haven, aptly titled ‘Island 54‘, with ‘Top Toppa’, a proficient display of her layers as a musician; flowing from a buttery-smooth, soulful vocal into a braggadocious dancehall onslaught, embellished with soundbites to further add to the steeze. ‘Dweet’ is a fitting follow-up; the high-energy track features a guest verse from dancehall legend Buju Banton, reminiscent of the propulsive energy that traditional Jamaican sound systems offer.

The multi-platinum artist describes ‘Island 54’ as a “perfect fusion between dancehall and Afro“. The first taste we get of that is on ‘Dilemma’, the final single to come ahead of the project. It features the late Sidhu Moose Wala on a collaboration that pulls on both Caribbean and Punjabi influences, heightened by Steff’s impactful verses. More sobering picks come in the form of tracks like ‘Solo’. Innately upbeat amapiano drums instantly invoke a bop whilst Steff softly expresses femininity and vulnerability. ‘You Got Me F’ed Up’ and ‘Protect Me’ similarly highlight an emotive, rawer side to the artist; the latter a standout with Steff professing “Jah will protect me” over a combo of choir, Afrobeats, and dancehall-laced verses.

As we reach the halfway point, it feels as though there isn’t a theme outside of the sonic imprint. ‘Bullet Proof’ and ‘I Am Woman’ are clustered together to convey a self-analysing segment but doesn’t stretch beyond the implications of her global name and brand. Special mention does go to her sonorous vocal on the soulful serenade ‘Problems In Paradise’ with James Gillespie, but given the time it took Stefflon Don to release ‘Island 54’, you’d think the scope might be more wide-ranging and the stakes a little higher.

Her skill as a lyrical rapper mining her personal history is employed sparingly. Seeds of distrust are sewn on ‘Dem Evil’ and ‘My Brother’s POV’. On the latter, ripe with Patois-bolstered bars, Steff flexes her pen on the album’s sole straight rap track that might stir up some controversy as an homage to her contentious rapper brother Dutchavelli, but it is one of her rawest moments on the album, exploring her past and the family ties that bind us. The album experience closes with the five-minute, choir-laden outro ‘We Build‘, which gestures to a future of enterprise, opportunity and communal exploration.

At large, ‘Studio 54’ is a transporting listen with vibes aplenty. As a certified hit-maker, Stefflon Don reaffirms the album’s namesake with anthems that flow, bang, and boast. It does leave you wondering how much more elevated the experience could have been if Stefflon Don went beyond her default performance mode.

6/10

Words: Shanté Collier-McDermott

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