The 108MICS staff share their thoughts on a crucial release in the current UK scene.
My relation with John Alone’s music began back in early 2019, almost immediately after his re-brand from Wiley Coyote and coinciding with the release of his single ‘Neverland’. Over the past year and a half, John has built up an impressive roster of songs that have displayed his rapping, singing and producing talents in equal measure. With the release of Babel! (his first real project under the Alone name) he has built upon the sound that these singles teased, in the process delivering the perfect set of songs with which to make his mark on the coming decade.
Although largely devoid of the sombre material found on tracks like ‘Tend to You’ and ‘West Side’ (‘Trust Me’ is the only major outlier in this sense), this project lives and breathes through John’s emotions and experiences. ‘Live For’, one of the few tracks released prior to Babel! in its entirety, sees the artist musing over 21st century romance and the loneliness that ultimately accompanies it. His hook work is simple but immensely effective, his chanted delivery (‘Lil baby, could you tell me what you live for?’) making the song an absolute anthem. Also of note about this track is John’s singing, which he floats in and out of at seemingly a moment’s notice. His voice is as dazzling here as it’s ever been, his beat selection from GYPTXVN peppered with haunting background vocal work.
The production choices on this project are also very much worthy of praise, frequent collaborators DJ Ship and Marimo Beats being the key players in Babel!’s vast, nocturnal ambience. Ship’s work on ‘Terrordome’ knocks incredibly hard, maintaining a sense of melody while pummeling the listener with earthquake-inducing 808’s. John absolutely glides on this track, creating some of the nicest vocal melodies of his career to date in the process. This song contains one of many features that the project offers, as Virgil Hawkins adopts a similar cadence to his recent Dragonchild Static release for his epic, constantly flow-switching guest verse. John’s decision to include so many features on what is essentially his debut album is an interesting one, and one that would likely have backfired in the hands of a lesser artist. Yusef Slim performs the first verse on the entirety of Babel! with his ‘Codeine’ feature, a deeply personal barrage of bars that bounces pleasantly over a slurred, almost aquatic beat that acts as an intense first plunge into John and co.’s ten track rap/R&B odyssey. Viceroy Lindsay contributes twice, once on the sneering ‘Sinister’ (which celebrates honesty as much as it critiques fakeness) and once on the closing track (a remix of the ‘Come Off My Phone’ single with Len). Vice’s contributions mark him as the project’s most essential collaborator, his energy as an MC is unmatched and I am hoping to hear more collaborations from the two rappers in the future.
As much as Babel! thrives off harder material, one of its crowning achievements is the track ‘Mujojo’. Reminiscent of last summer’s ‘Two Suns’ single (both employ the talents of Marimo Beats), this track is a gorgeous segue into the project’s final act, where John’s singing takes centre stage and allows things to conclude in a more overtly melodic fashion. As one of my most anticipated releases of this year, John’s first project under his current moniker is as good an argument as any that underground music in the UK is in a better place than ever before.
John Alone’s new full length is a triumph for British underground music, a record that bulldozes through its inconsistencies with a formidable roster and intensely collaborative atmosphere.
“Babel! (AKA Johnny Social’s Collectivist Manifesto)” is a pretty heavily loaded title for an album. It’s the given name to rapper-singer John Alone’s new full length project, an artistically-minded effort loaded with guests and collaborators. The title gives some insight into John’s aims for the project; “Babel!” is exclaimed like a sudden epiphany, an immediate urge to reach new creative peaks, if not something divine. The subtitle “Johnny Social’s Collectivist Manifesto” is both more present and prescient. John Alone sees a future where everyone comes together for one purpose. According to this album, that purpose is to make seriously good music.
“Babel!” is intelligent rap music that doesn’t pretend the standards of sex, money and drugs are intrinsically low. “BANG THAT” is a song about sex, sure, but it’s moreso a song about appreciation and apprehension, assisted by a hazy instrumental from MARIMO Beats. Opener “CODEINE” sees John Alone and lofi drill lyricist Yusef Slim navigate a pulsing sonic landscape, evoking a sedated heartbeat. Slim is the first voice heard on “Babel!”, and he employs the same brilliant confidence he exudes on his solo tracks. When John breaks through in the song’s second half with a melodic blend of muttering and impassioned crooning it’s refreshing, uplifting, and soulful. True to the title he sounds beneath a pyramid of influences, but he’s neither upset or overpowered. John Alone doesn’t need to exaggerate life to highlight its glories.
Some of the performances across the tape’s half hour runtime are seriously cutthroat. Viceroy Lindsay jumps into “SINISTER” to match the energy of his host, each word from either artist bleeds with pressure. Tight, constricted flows carry over to “TOUCH DOWN”, with John’s hook aquaplaning over CKbreeze’s oceanic beat. “Diligent style, immigrant child, n—- went wild, wow!” he raps with a suave confidence. “MUJOJO”, a solo cut, is mostly sung in Yoruba, a dedication to the artist’s heritage. John’s best singing is on the superb “TERRORDOME” – the call of “I just don’t feel enough” is met by a shotgun blast of autotuned emotion from Virgil Hawkins. There are new faces around each corner on “Babel!” and all of them offer a new plan or concept or sound to the growing “Manifesto”.
“Babel!” ends with a remix of “COME OFF MY PHONE” assisted by Len and Viceroy Lindsay. It’s a fitting end to a project that precedes even grander upcoming works, building hype and atmosphere before the tape shuts down. The collectivists are plotting, and by the sounds of it John Alone’s revolution is up next.
Listen to “Babel!” here.