The following concerns material that is unsuitable to readers under the aged of 18
It has tinges of the dichotomy of Riz MC/Riz Ahmed's cultural identity – heavy bass beats that are influenced by London garage music and iconic south Asian-sounding strings. It comes at a time when Hollywood is coming calling for Riz. Englistan was released, purposefully, on St. George's Day alongside a short film written and directed by Ahmed.
It opens with its strongest offering, the eponymous 'Englistan' featuring Ed Thomas and produced by Jakwob who is responsible for Ellie Goulding's stratospherically popular "Starry Eyed". In it, the lyrics are used to list a comprehensive list of aspects of life that are quintessentially British and scrutinise them, repeating "God Save The Queen/Nah she ain't mates with me" and later "Racist beef/Cakes and tea/All go together like do-re-mi…".
Englistan also proves to be the most light-hearted and over-arching song on the collection. Following it is 'Double Lives' featuring Aruba Red which details the two lives that young British-Asians balance on their shoulder: home and not-at-home; tradition and secularism. It's also the first song on which we hear Ahmed singing in addition to rapping.
Red's chorus gives an explicit explanation of the situation: "I don't know which way to go/It's a path that I can't find/I'm just tryna be me…" This explicitness is what gives the EP such impact. It isn't shrouded in symbolism and poetry; it's given to you clear as day. It makes the EP an eye-opening exposé of a topic that is dealt with in silence.
Then comes 'Different' which is a far more personal song, about his own life. The sound is far more garage-y. It goes through his experiences as a child, growing up, and his career in the arts and entertainment. "Growing up between the road and rich racists, you never know where your place is/There wasn't one so I made it/Wembley, Oxford, English, Asian…" It also borrows from the previous song's themes about living a double life and contrasting them.
Even more personal is 'Sunburst' which chronicles his experiences with mental health issues. It describes the emotions and actions that come with depression. Later on, he lists the remedies that are suggested to sufferers, and when he expresses that they don't work, he's told to "Put on a brave face…" because "They don't understand…" There's optimism in the chorus by Tawiah: "I want you to know that/Sunburst will soon come/After raincloud."
'A Few Bob', also featuring Tawiah, explores the volatility of the economy. It tells the story of a fictional Bob who is affected by the inequality and greed that Ahmed attests in inherent in our economy. It explores the nepotism afforded to the rich and the way that the poor are left to bare the brunt of issues. In these last two songs there are mastering issues, where Tawiah's voice sits on top of the music as opposed to in it.
'Enuff' is mostly instrumental, but has a thirty second verse in the middle of it. Beside the verse we hear Aruba Red again singing a chorus that asks us "Is it ever enough?" The verse is performed with the aggression of a skit against someone. It seems to be about reaching the limits – on love, on inequality, and on criticisms.
Surprisingly, 'Breath' is the joint-least popular song on the collection. A surprise because it's one of the better put together. It feels like it addresses the sheer nature of modern day life in all of its busy-ness and conceit dressed as strength. He uses it to remind us to "Breathe for a second" – altogether reminding us not to be obsessed with the small stuff.
Finishing the mixtape off are two tracks and they finish it off with a bang. The first is 'Benaz' which is a raw and visceral storytelling of a real life 'honour' killing of Banaz Mahmod back in 2007 by her father and uncle for rejecting her arranged suitor and falling for another man. It's so uncomfortable that, once you begin, it's difficult not to see it through. Prepare yourselves for this with a haunting chorus by Ayana Witter Johnson made all the more poignant by being a true story.
Finally comes 'I Ain't Being Racist But…' which is performed by Ahmed but his voice has been altered. It is performed as a fake racist person who vocalises his prejudices and is gradually fed the facts about Britain's interactions with the foreign, which make him realise the hypocrisy of his hatred.
Like all albums with a message, regardless of whether you're a fan of it musically, it means a great deal to the children of immigrants to have this issue, for the first time, being brought to the fore. Ahmed does this with tact and open-minded poise.
Image courtesy of Facebook/RizMC