The UK artist vents his many frustrations while combining rock & hip-hop
“If you voted Brexit, please find the nearest exit.” Rat Boy’s line in the middle of “BOILING POINT” is a reminder that America isn’t the only nation embroiled in deep political turmoil, but the British artist speaks on the troubles in both countries on his new album Scum. It’s long been known that adversity often inspires art, and both social issues, as well as personal struggles, clearly served as a catalyst for this album. With little musical variation throughout the album, it feels more like an overdue outburst of pent-up frustrations than an evolving narrative, one that can feel a tad repetitive over time but certainly gets its point across.
The eight interludes are (a bit surprisingly) a success, serving as well-timed breaks rather than crutches to fill space. Stevie, a down-on-his-luck radio DJ for a dying radio station, guides you through the album while connecting his personal life and reading reactionary hate mail live on the air. “END OF THE ROAD” might offer the most stand-alone entertainment, seeing our host frantically signing off as the sheriff breaks down his door demanding payment for his unresolved debts.
Hip-hop and punk rock have enjoyed an illustrious relationship with each other, sharing a rebellious, outspoken nature between different musical styles. Scum falls mainly into the latter genre, using guitar-driven melodies over-pumping, organic drums. “TURN ROUND M8,” the first true song on the album, contrasts its own desperate, bottomed-out lyrics with cheery music in the background. Most of the album follows this pattern, embracing the idea of revolt with vim and vigor. The aforementioned “TURN ROUND M8” lashes out against the monotony of the working world, while “ILL BE WAITING” laments a somewhat unrequited love that he can’t leave behind. “Only ever need me when I’m bored and alone” he cries, while later resolving that he can always change his number back if she decides it’s time to get serious.
Vivid storytelling is one of Rat Boy’s strengths, and he uses the skill throughout to explain the trials in his life. “FAKE ID” sees a relatively humorous event take a turn for the worst, as he complains about losing his fake ID at a club only to be mugged in a nearby alley (and insulted for his lack of flash: “Where’s your iPhone 6? I ain’t stealing this shit,” the robber declares). There are no laughs to be found in the storyline on “LEFT 4 DEAD,” however; the song ends with the youngster laid up in a hospital being fed via tube as his money problems continue to pile up.
Occasionally choosing to rap rather than sing, most of Rat Boy’s hip-hop influences appear in the vocals on Scum. There are a few DJ scratches mixed in as well, however, and the sample driven “GET OVER IT” is one of the standout songs on the album. Revamping old school funk with modern drums, it’s a break from the style of music that dominates most of SCUM, showing some versatility from the UK-bred product.
British hip-hop has struggled to gain traction here in the States, but Rat Boy’s sound falls outside of the grime that’s come to dominate much of the region. Songs like “LAIDBACK” are better suited for a peaceful hike than for the pregame, with organic melodies that continuously rise throughout the song. With so many songs succeeding in the same fashion, however, SCUM is an album that sounds better in spurts than played from front to back. That’s not necessarily a detriment in the growing playlist-driven culture, however; as long as the material is good, listeners will find the proper way to use it.