‘Old Pictures is an album just as at home in a starry eyed 5am kitchen chat as it is bumping in the whip with the tinted windows.’
By David Weir
From the cover art to the opening sample (‘I was 22 years old and I got cut in the face by a suspicious person, I kept it moving…. they don’t know I have heart, I have a soul’) cryptic ghetto lyricist Melanin 9’s latest album, Old Pictures, is a piece built on melancholy foundations.
Looking back through time, we travel with the London based rapper as he sees friends killed or sent behind bars, sketchy drug deals, family church mornings, past exes and adolescent henny and spliff hazed nights getting up to questionably legal ventures. A real overarching picture of a life familiar to many young people in London, spent ‘skipping class and shifting weight on tough estates’.
But this album’s intricate and poetic wordplay belies the potentially somewhat played out subject matter. With a heavy focus on cosmic imagery and philosophical introspection, Old Pictures is an album just as at home in a starry-eyed 5am kitchen chat as it is bumping in the whip with the tinted windows.
Instrumentals wise, the album spans dark trip-hop vibes to jazzy boom bap beats and spacey synth led tunes. Also demonstrated is M9s ability to write a nicely crafted vocal hook, including on lead single Polaroids – which actually saw a crackly lo-fi video release on YouTube over a year ago. On production duties are a range of established and rising beatmakers, including long-time M9 collaborator Anatomy and well respected German lo-fi master Wun Two.
Over the top of these laid back, but sometimes haunting, instrumentals (including, yes, an almost Motown inspired track) M9’s densely metaphorical delivery keeps listeners invested in the album’s themes. On another standout tune, Heart Shaped Box, he spins a vivid and lurid tale of a ghetto princess. That one is a real head nodder, with no holds barred on the sexual honesty and a catchy refrain – ‘cos they love your steeeylo’.
This track is typical of the raw truth M9 puts out on this album. His past trap lifestyle is not glamourised or even looked at critically, but more explored – with a real sense of open and frank introspection not too often found in the bravado soaked UK rap scene. Also along for the ride are, unusually for a British release, exclusively American rappers including up and comer Mach Hoffa.
To be honest M9, mate, we appreciate your stylo too. We can only hope you keep making top-tier atmospheric and, above all, real music like this.