With a subject like a still recent death, the journey from poetry to pop music can be treacherous; the media necessarily forces Ahmed to polish his stories until they are brilliant enough for radio plays and A&R meetings. Fortunately, he has a knack for it. When the smoke rises Skillfully translates Ahmed’s poetry into melody without blunting the truth of the stories at his heart. The music is delicate: Ahmed’s singing voice is low and warm, and soft acoustic instruments adorn the understated production. The nylon string guitars and piano of the celestial lo-fi beatmaker of beatmaker Frank Dukes give an impression of eternity. Elsewhere, the underwater synths of Jamie xx and his futuristic folk colleague James Blake evoke the gnawing immediacy of loss. The vacillation between the two moods is a worthy imitation of the swing of grief between the abstract and the too real.
Where Smoke Dawg’s death is a source of constant injury, the gentrification of Regent Park is insult added to injury. In the first “Stay Alive” match, Ahmed chants to a friend, “All these traps and all these road signs / None of them will be yours or mine.” Video for the song, which depicts Ahmed and his friends in front of the Regent Park housing projects, highlights the nest of surveillance cameras above them, highlighting their lack of ownership over their home. The theme reappears in the “Capo” assisted by Sampha, where Ahmed sings: “This place is no longer ours. Dispossession conspires with violence; both threaten the well-being, freedom and survival of his friends. In response, Ahmed promises to remember: “I will be your empire,” he sings, and broadcasts the memories of his friends over the airwaves to live a thousand lives.
Many of Ahmed’s most heartfelt verses are addressed to his community. At the start of “Stay Alive” he sings to the soldier with a “lean bottle and a gun in [his] jeans, “assuring him,” I care about you, fam. »For most When the smoke rises, Ahmed assumes a position of absolute devotion. On “What About Heaven”, he trembles at the question, “What if you are not forgiven?” And on “Separate” he shouts, “I’m too young to feel this pain.” But even by expressing these more intimate and vulnerable feelings, the album’s folk aesthetic gives its words an aura of fable.
Ahmed seems to bristle with his own image as a poet in a team of rappers: during a live on Instagram last December, he said: “I have never in my life claimed to be anti-violent. He doesn’t like the halo that comes with being a black youth celebrated by a polite society – the attention is squeaky at best, and at worst threatens to maintain the same prejudices as misery in his community. When the smoke rises shares many of the aesthetic characteristics of a modern rap album, with samples and Drake-style voicemail interludes. But the choice to build it around the tropes of folk music is an innovative way of avoiding the “conscious” stereotype, notorious in hip-hop for a moralizing impulse that tends to hollow out its messages. (In an interview with Pitchfork, Ahmed pointedly said, “All of backpack rap culture, I’ve never been a fan of that.”) When the smoke rises reaffirms the sincerity that made Ahmed famous: he only needs his voice to captivate.
Acheter: Rough Trade
(Pitchfork earns a commission on purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our top rated albums of the week. Subscribe to the 10 to Hear newsletter here.