Basic premise: After killing last year with a succession of club and chart bangers such as 'Options' which reached number seven in the UK charts, 'OT Bop' and 'Trust Issues', East London collective finally drop their first complete body of work 'Roots.' But does it bang?
I have a running joke about NSG. If I ever saw any of them on the street, I wouldn't recognise a single one. No individual member stands out visually or lyrically. To be honest, even their individual flow is not distinct from each other. But I guess that's why their group. There is a real synergy between them even if I couldn't pick them out in a rave.
But it is because of this complete alignment as a group that NSG's sound is so refined and so consistent.
When NSG dropped ‘Options’ in the winter of 2018 and then ‘OT Bop’ in the summer of 2019, I knew we were listening to the UK’s best afrobeat/afroswing group. Like J Hus and Geko, NSG has taken the now mainstream afrobeat sound and infused it with rap lyrics and London sensibilities.
'Roots' showcases NSG in complete control of their made-for-the-club sound while also taking some bold but well-calculated risks which surprisingly work.
Take 'Political badness' for example, the first track on the mixtape. I didn't expect the first track from this mixtape to have such a heavy reggae influence, but NSG makes it work without losing their afrobeat sound.
‘Grandad’, ‘MCM’, ‘Porsche’ and ‘Why Stress’ are clearly the heavy hitters of the album. These tracks are where NSG is entirely within their element and have complete mastery of their sound and their image. These tracks represent the essence of who NSG is. I mentioned earlier that they are a music group meld into one and these tracks really hammer home that point.
NSG could have played it safe, and I would still have loved this mixtape. But they surprise me. Take tracks like 'Lupita' and ‘Jorja’ which brings NSG's sound much closer to the afrobeat sound from Nigerian artists like WizKid. In both of these tracks, NSG praise the love they have for black women. These tracks do not have that undercurrent of the inner-London road lifestyle which is usually within all of their tracks. These tracks feel and sound like a return to the roots of afrobeats, which is apt considering the name of the mixtape.
Chip makes a surprise appearance on 'Nonsense', and while I wouldn't think Chip would be able to rap next to NSG, somehow it works. Again, this just shows that NSG are such a master of their sound that they can bring in a wildcard like Chip and effortlessly mesh him into a specific track.
Final verdict: NSG showcase they are the masters of the London-centric afrobeat sound with 'Roots.' While they stay entirely within their lane for most of this mixtape, they are a few surprising curves which demonstrate the versatility and hidden depth of they have. You may not recognise NSG on the street, but you will recognise their superior sound.
Author: Candice Carty-Williams
Genre: Woman fiction
Basic premise: Queenie is basically like the black version of Bridget Jone's Diary. It follows the life of Queenie Jones, a 25-year-old black woman living in London and going through a pretty bad quarter-life crisis. She’s on a break from her white boyfriend, Tom, and is confused about what the break means for their relationship in the long term. On top of that, her job as a journalist is hanging by a thread and made even worse when she has a short fling with one of her colleagues, leading to a disastrous chain of events. At home, she is struggling with her rent, has a strained relationship with her mum and has to deal with her well-meaning but overbearing mother.
Yeah, life is not easy, for Queenie.
Review: Even though I am a 30-year old black man, so I am clearly not the author’s typical audience, I enjoyed Queenie. I do have some issues with it but overall it was an enjoyable read.
My favourite aspect of the book itself was Queenie’s character. Throughout the book, her life unravels as she makes bad decisions with mostly white men she sleeps with and struggles to connect with her emotionally broken mother.
But what I found most interesting is that Queenie is not a loud or angry black woman stereotype. She’s a highly creative and sensitive young black woman and we don’t see that kind of representation of black women in many mediums, let alone books. As much as I liked Queenie, I do have to mention Kyazike, her Ugandan best friend who recounts some hilarious dating stories. Can’t lie, some of us men don’t have any clue what we’re doing when it comes to the dating game.
The weakest part of the novel for me, personally, was the writing. Not that the writing was terrible. Far from it. In fact, there are some witty turns of phrase in this book that made even me, as a man, laugh. But I did find Candice’s writing to be too simple, a little generic and lacking a distinct voice. She is not in same league as Zadie Smith writing-wise but to be fair, not many black authors are, male or female.
Also, there is a major revelation about Queenie’s mother’s past boyfriend, which I won’t spoil, which was quite jarring. It’s quite a dark twist in the book which didn’t quite work for me because before this reveal, the book was more light-hearted.
Queenie is worth the read. The eponymous hero is a breath of fresh air for black female representation as she is not the loud, angry or ghetto black girl stereotype. She feels like a real woman, going thorough unique struggles that only a black female could experence. Whether you’re a male or female, Queenie is endlessly entertaining and thought-provoking.