Bridging the gap between fans of veteran grime, and new wave British trap, Insomnia is the album no one really knew they needed.
The spontaneity of Skep, Chip and Adz’ collaborative album left little time to preconceive any thoughts on how Insomnia could sound. I was scared to press play on the LP yesterday morning. However, lead single Waze offered a promising introduction to the project’s vibe. Laced in schizophrenic snares and abrasive bass, Cardo’s beat accommodates Adz’ melodic hook, Chip’s veracious bars and Skepta’s inherent greaze cleanly – allowing each member to excel in their own way. “If three man link up and do an album it ain’t gonna sound like this” asserts Chip confidently in his opening lyric. FKA Chipmunk is not wrong, and this is evident from the beginning.
Produced by Skep, ‘Mains’ starts the album in a twinkly fashion. This is fitting given (real name) Joseph Adenuga’s brand takes the track’s name. The dark, sexual humour, that plays throughout the whole album, starts with the North Londoner rapping in his intrinsic, villainous demeanour, tampering with the idea of snatching girls away from guys. It gets a lot more explicit as the LP goes on, courtesy of Young Adz.
The album starts off particularly strong, with its experimental nature paying off. Adz is a lot more dexterous with his word-play, Skepta bodies his contagious hook on Golden Brown, and Chip offers plenty of braggadocios one liners to keep you listening closely: “three piece suit I look like someone’s husband, don’t let the suit fool you I don’t cuff links”.
Despite an illustrious list of producers, it is Skepta’s own beats that really personify the album’s strengths. St. Tropez features a genius sample of M.I.A’s Paper Planes, companioning her bars with Jamaican dancehall rhythms. Perfect for the summer.
The track also highlights a particular power Insomnia possesses. Although the record enroles so many continental collaborators, the three rappers still manage to make the album quintessentially British. From the M.I.A sample, to Young Adz’ comical Liverpudlian accent, on St. Tropez, they fail to forget the country that made them.
Insomnia Interlude is an ode to the work-rate of rappers, and their drug fuelled lifestyle. Adenuga offers some ridiculous bars about Naomi Campbell, addressing all the “Victoria Secrets” she is trying to show him on FaceTime, which he claims is a reason for his personal insomnia. The drill-trap beat adds to the materialistic nature of the tune – both genres are the money makers in British music at the moment.
After Star In The Hood, the record dips in quality. There are glimmers of brilliance, but a couple of tunes could have avoided the final cut. High Road in particular, would have been perfect for a more conscious rapper like Nines, but you fail to feel any sincerity towards the narrative Chip, Adz and Skepta try and project onto this cut.
As someone who is new to Young Adz and the vibe he offers on a project, by Sin City I did find his left-field autotune quite jarring. This might accentuate my favouritism towards grime, but the D Block-Europe member could have tried to offer something more than grotesque euphemisms and materialistic metaphors. “I’m the reason she’s got a plastic nose” he spits on Sin City… give a fuck?
The album closer Intro should definitely have been longer than a minute too. Money Montage’s production is some of the best on the whole record. You could be whipping in your car, or walking around Hogwarts; this song seems fitting for both environments. Mic Check, however, personifies the LP’s Britishness further, paying homage to Craig David and garage pop in general.
Insomnia feels fitting for the U.K’s current cultural moment. With Covid-19 locking everyone in isolation, it may be difficult to collaborate with one another, but it is a time to try something new. How this album came out so cohesive bewilders me, considering it enlists three contrasting emcees from different periods of U.K music.