Disclaimer: This album review was written while coming down off a coke and pills binge.
Right, now I’ve lowered the level of expectation, we can proceed, safe in the knowledge that this review will live up to its lowly billing.
If you’re hoping to determine whether Werd’s debut full-length is worthy of your pocket money, read on: we’re gonna dissect Untitled Scot in forensic detail, before attempting to stitch it back together without spawning Frankenstein’s monster in the process.
Conversely, if Werd is just another word that’s yet to be added to your lexicon, that’s cool: you don’t even have to like hip-hop to enjoy this review. Hell, you don’t even have to like music; provided you can get off on Ed Uncovered’s stock in trade – clause-laden sentences with a light sprinkling of lulz – you won’t leave disappointed.
Now, are we sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…
Once upon a time, there was an MC named Werd. Drew Devine, if you must know his real name, and a pretty cool name at that, albeit not quite as cool as Werd which is of course an anagram of Drew, but you figured that already, right?
So getting back to our story: Werd lived in a city called Edinburgh, where at the tender age of 15 he discovered hip-hop (or did hip-hop discover him?), whereupon romance blossomed and the pair lived happily ever after, bound up in a blissful symbiotic relationship.
Only it didn’t quite work out that way, because life’s never that simple. Even the chirpiest of fairy tales has to involve some sort of struggle; some kind of foe to be vanquished before our hero can ride off into the sunset with our heroine.
Above: Reckon you can multi-task? Listen to Untitled Scot while you read along.
In this case, our heroine – hip-hop – is the heroin that sustains our protagonist. Hip-hop isn’t a part of Werd’s life – it is his life. As he wearily acknowledges in opening track Find My-Sell, ‘You don’t know how I feel, joint from the tray and a microwave meal, watch TV make a tune no deal, sleep, wake up, yeah same old spiel’.
Hip-hop isn’t for the faint-hearted, the mild or the meek. If you like hip-hop, you don’t just like it – you love it. You live it. Without it, you are nothing. It may be acceptable to play in a covers band without feeling an affinity for the Robbie Williams hits you churn out, but hip-hop calls for a different breed of artist – a more obsessive breed, to whom music is not a lifestyle accessory – it’s a life. It’s the reason you get out of bed in the morning, and it’s the reason you lie in bed at night, a notebook nearby to capture the lyrics that surface in your sub-conscious as you’re drifting off.
On a good day, hip-hop is the kindest of mistresses, treating you to sold out shows, boisterous ciphers and turning a blind eye when you wind up in the embrace of the occasional chip-shop groupie. More often than not though, hip-hop can be a lonely vocation, as Werd frequently acknowledges on Untitled Scot.
As one of Scotland’s most established rappers, his YouTube channel comfortably exceeding 200,000 views, it is remarkable that this is Werd’s first solo album. Nevertheless, his output has been prolific, including collaborations with Wardie Burns under the Vagabonds moniker plus a spate of mix tapes, compilations and a solitary single. Scottish hip-hop may still be an underground phenomenon, but the release of Werd’s first full-length is still A Pretty Big Deal – within the esoteric sub-genre that is Scottish hip-hop at least.
Of course, whatever the merits of Untitled Scot, it’s going to take more than a few intelligent bars from an erudite wordsmith to change the status quo. This is a niche album from a niche rapper being reviewed on a niche website. If this sounds like prime hipster material, don’t worry – Untitled Scot may be many things, but it’s not pretentious. Werd makes hip-hop for the masses, even if the masses are too sedated by Taio Cruz to give his efforts the time of day.
The Edinburgh rapper is no stranger to hook-laden hip-hop, as anyone who’s heard Drive It Like It’s Stolen will attest. Surprisingly, however, his debut LP starts off in downbeat fashion, with the opening track built around the simple refrain ‘This album has no set style, it’s just me tryna find myself’. The hook – like the beat that accompanies it – is effective without grabbing you by the balls and compelling you to sing along. It’s a pattern that resurfaces over the ensuing tracks, with SOS All Day, Heart Inside and Vagabonds Pt.2 all solid efforts that nevertheless fail to inspire fist-clenching euphoria.
Listen back to Werd’s opening salvo again, however, and something else emerges: the sheer quality of the bars themselves, which are delivered effortlessly. Werd makes hip-hop sound easy. Even when he’s coasting, such as on sophomore track SOS All Day, the fluency of the rhymes shines through. It’s the same on Heart Inside, a simple hip-hop number that lesser rappers would have claimed as their standout anthem. In Werd’s hands, it’s just another album track, albeit one that evinces his mastery of the rap game.
Next up is Vagabonds Pt.2, featuring – of course – Werd’s co-conspirator, Wardie Burns. Reminiscent of Eminem’s Business, it includes the line ‘Now I’m in your mummy’s ass, she gave me money for some condoms – now that’s real Johnny Cash’, which can only have been delivered by the acerbic Wardie Burns. Not to be outdone, Werd chips in with some deft wordplay of his own, rhyming anthrax with Anne Frank’s along the way.
Is It Hip-Hop? rumbles along nicely, propelled by its sub-friendly bassline, while Lost Focus is less memorable, but warrants a listen if only to hear Deeko, an Edinburgh MC who has yet to spit a bad 16. Untitled Scot may be The Drew Devine Show, but the album also serves as a who’s who of east coast hip-hop, featuring guest appearances from no less than eight Edinburgh rappers.
Untitled Scot’s opening sextet is stocked with respectable hip-hop numbers that are sure to be savoured by hip-hop heads. However, it’s not until track seven – My State of Mind – that the album truly comes to life with Werd’s most personal song yet. Ironically, it’s also the most commercial song, aided by a soulful country sample that underpins the chorus. There are too many quotable lines to quote, though the track is best encapsulated as follows: ‘I’m surrounded by people but I feel so lonely, if only I held one person closely enough to trust, to talk to solely, I wouldn’t need drink and these drugs to hold me.’ It’s sombre, it’s wave-your-phone-in-the-airey and it’s also some of Werd’s best work to date. For all its lyrical profundity, the finest moment on My State of Mind occurs precisely 11 seconds in, as Werd sighs and mutters ‘I hate this’ as he prepares to bare his soul. Sometimes, it’s the little things that leave the biggest impression.
After the introspection of My State of Mind, No Romeo featuring MOG steps things up a notch, while the Dizzee Rascal-inspired Shout Shout maintains the positive vibe. Then there’s the discordant dubstep of Irreplaceable, which can best be described as interesting, and at worst ‘replaceable’.
Hip-hop albums have a tendency to tail off towards the latter half. Ten tracks into Untitled Scot and it’s been a good listen without compelling you to streak along your street, proclaiming its greatness to the neighbours while your ball-sack slaps against your thighs.
All that changes during the course of the final seven tracks however which, contrary to the rules of hip-hop, transpire to be not just good, but fucking good. It’s a pleasant and unexpected surprise, even if the woman across the road doesn’t see it that way when presented with the sight of your lily-white ass.
The renaissance begins with The Whistle Song, which deserves the accolade of feel-good song of the summer, whenever summer finally materialises. This isn’t heroin – it’s crack cocaine, wrapped up in three minutes of sheer unadulterated fun. ‘It’s my whistling song,’ proclaims Werd, ‘I can’t whistle or I’d whistle along.’ Along the way, he references Christian Bale, and to paraphrase Christian Bale paraphrasing Patrick Bateman, The Whistle Song is as uplifting as anything I’ve heard in hip-hop.
History In Disguise featuring Jordan Butler is packed to the gunnels with intelligent lyricism; Forever Endeavour, which follows, is less memorable, but thankfully there are still four tracks left, and Werd murders every single one.
Rhymes With Purple is the album’s most ambitious track, fuelled by a bombastic orchestral score that shouldn’t work, and yet somehow does. Then there’s Platform, which is blessed with the sort of beat that has rappers queueing up to jump on it. Three accept the challenge – Werd, Nity Gritz and Conscious Route – and they don’t disappoint, gifting the killer beat the killer bars it deserves.
15 down, two to go…
If Platform is the pinnacle of pure, unadulterated hip-hop, how do you describe Drive It Like It’s Stolen? Simple – you quote from the previous review you penned when the track was released as a single: ‘Drive It Like It’s Stolen – or Drive It Like It’s F****ng Stolen to give the song its full name – is three minutes of potty-mouthed, insurrectionary attitude. It is a middle finger raised to the law and anyone else who cares to take offence. And for that it’s truly brilliant.’
That said, Drive It Like It’s Stolen is admittedly a divisive track – not everyone will appreciate its neddish attitude or weak-ass snare drum, though it gets pass marks from Ed Uncovered. Again.
And then there was one
We find ourselves with one track left to appraise, and it’s a track called called Drunk Story. Sound familiar? To those who are new to Scottish hip-hop (with its rich and ignominious history), Drunk Story was recorded years ago by Werd but never released. In spite of having lain in the vaults gathering dust, the track has attained cult status with all who’ve happened to hear it. Now that it’s finally seen the light of day, is Drunk Story as good as the campfire tales would make it, or have its virtues been exaggerated by listeners intoxicated on Buckfast #7 and lemon skunk?
‘No’ is the short answer – its virtues have certainly not been exaggerated. Drunk Story was a wasted anthem from the moment it was committed to USB stick, and in 2012, book-ending Werd’s debut album, it sounds every bit as magnificent.
Is there a song that better encapsulates the feeling of being utterly destroyed on tonic wine? Once again, ‘No’ is the short answer. I could devote another six pages to extolling the virtues of Drunk Story, but you’d be better off listening to it yourself and forming your own conclusions.
And there we have it: Untitled Scot stripped down and then reassembled by Ed Uncovered. 17 tracks: five brilliant, ten solid and two skippable. It won’t reverse climate change, silence Taio Cruz or compel Israel to get the fuck out of Palestine, but it’s certainly raised the bar within the narrow confines of Scottish hip-hop.
More importantly, within the slightly wider confines of UK hip-hop, Untitled Scot is an exercise in how to make commercially viable music without betraying everything you once stood for. Devlin and Dizzee pay heed to Devine.
Ultimately, what I, you or anyone else thinks of Untitled Scot is inconsequential to Werd: he’ll keep on making hip-hop, whether it’s appreciated by five or 500,000. If you like what he does, great, and if you don’t, he’ll raise a middle digit and step back into the booth. As he pointedly explains in Is This Hip-Hop?, ‘Call me a ned, is it getting through? My whole life don’t follow what I listen to’, which in internet parlance translates roughly as follows: