'Maps' is undoubtedly The Ruby Kid's most complete release to date. For a start, it has a more orthodox Hip Hop vibe (certain to please the purists), a more settled feel and overall, a greater finesse than his previous outing, Winter in the City. The EP, produced by London-based Dan Angell, has a more diverse collection of beats, all soulfully crafted and tightened up with punchier enunciation, hooks and cadences. Long-time collaborators Black Jacobins are largely absent from Maps but make a cameo appearance when providing the musical accompaniment to The Ruby Kids spoken-word poem The Imagined Village in a live session performed for BBC Sheffield. Otherwise the EP has a more conventional twofold producer/emcee dynamic but also a gentle mottling of indie/folk colour from Manchester-based Al Baker for good measure.
In essence, the EP is a reflection of an artists thoughts and ruminations in the midst of a gritty East London milieu. The change of location is coupled with a change of sound which is more emotionally-tangible and has fewer obscure references being thrust at the listener. His relentless verbosity is also toned down a little so as to convey a starker, stripped-down message to his listeners. Indeed, the EP affirms this change of approach from the off with the opening track, All Hand on Deck casting aside the tinkling piano keys and jazz-inflected horns reminiscent of Winter of the City and pulsed instead with an edgier, staccato electro rhythm. The following track Ends/Means has a similarly edgy low-pitched palm-muted guitar riff that crescendos into an energetic anthemic hook, impelling you to chant along. In the midst of this eruption of sound, The Ruby Kid distils his righteous anger predicated on notions of class struggle without sounding heavy-handed or preachy but evokes the sort of biting criticism becoming ever-more resonant in an era where class struggles are again coming to the fore. In a similar thematic vein, the wonderfully titled Growing Up Is A Euphemism For Knowing Your Place conveys The Ruby Kids antipathy towards the banalities of nine-to-five wage slavery. The song features radical folk-singer extraordinaire Al Baker who imparts the wonderful turn of phrase; I'll work if I have to, but never with an ethic.
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On a less political, more observational tip, Hoxton Bounce makes explicit reference to the paradoxes and absurdities of the bohemian subculture prevalent in Londons East End (Hoxton and surrounding areas being a catchall for Londons desultory hipster scene.) The song is to some extent an anti-scene rant without resorting to low-brow attacks or sophomoric analogies, instead critiquing the same buzz conglomerate, the scenes insipid ephemerality and it's abject lack of original concepts ("Within the beating heart of every new idea you're drawn to/ Is the remnants of a better one someone else had before you").
The less politically-inclined, more literary side to The Ruby Kid shines through also in The Key which features some mesmerizing poetic descriptions of a nightclub silhouetted by lasers, containing the spectral smoke of cigarettes. Richer descriptions and soundscapes match his more introspective numbers suitably, particularly the multi-layered, down-tempo Morning After Snow, a song tinged with a sadness stirred by wistful guitar sample and The Ruby Kids own meditations on life's inevitable comedowns, both emotional and drug-induced.
Could I do something as flippant as ascribe a label to this brand of Hip Hop? Well, it could be argued this is music betwixt and between Hip Hop and poetry but seen as The Ruby Kid has the credibility of both an emcee and poet it would be unwise of me to assign him such an indecisive position somewhere in the middle. Upon perusal and re-perusal of his superb EP, The Ruby Kid above all proves he has an uncanny ability to move, to captivate and to convey a palpable poetic honesty to his listener. Maps EP is a magnificent blueprint for a promising future and henceforth the World is indeed his Oyster card.
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