How things have changed for British urban musicians. When So Soild Crew stormed their way to the top of the charts with ’21 Seconds’ it was almost as if the end of the world was nigh, and not just in middle England – they found themselves removed from the Trinity Ball after a gun conviction. Eight years later and not only are the various members of SSC to be found in reality shows and musical theatre, but Dizzee Rascal is a chat show and chart fixture. All of which means that Tinchy Stryder is pushing against a very open door.
Not that his success is quite the overnight story that it might seem. Raised in a similar East London Ghanaian background to Dizzee, Stryder (aka Kwasi Danquah) has been a face on the pirate radio scene since he was thirteen, before releasing his debut album on an independent label in 2007. Even his early major label singles failed to really trouble the charts. All in all, there’s something encouragingly real about Mr Stryder.
What’s also great about him is that he makes really, really good records. Catch 22 is chock full of them, an album with both eyes fixed on mainstream success (which it has duly achieved) but unwilling to cast its roots to the wind just yet. Above all its an exercise in pop music, perhaps in itself an example of just how ubiquitous grime and garage has become. Stryder is a good singer and also a skilled rapper, surrounding himself with an extensive supporting cast to help keep things varied. The singles have become radio staples over the summer and still sound effective when gathered together, but the album tracks pack a punch too – particularly the sweeping ‘Landed’ and punchy ‘Stryderman’. Elsewhere there are nods to the underground and, on the likes of ‘Spotlight’, even the old school of So Solid and their contemporaries.
To less tuned in (alright, older) ears there is much that is unavoidably baffling and, at times, ridiculous about Tinchy Stryder. His appearance in Star In The Hood clothing in every single photo, the relentless marketing approach of Twitter et al, the feeling that you’ll be hearing this coming out of mobile phones at the back of buses for the next few months, the fact that there is a young man called Chipmunk on the record, that bloke from N-Dubz in the stupid hat – all of these are the generation gap writ large. Forget that though, just go with it and you’ll discover an exciting and engaging talent, albeit it one warming us up before the Dizzee Rascal album makes its appearance.
And for old time’s sake….