Reali-T has been one of the more underrated talents within North East hip-hop for years. 2017 seen the Newcastle based, Hackney born rapper emerge, cementing himself as one of the scene’s most respected artists. ‘Stay Tuned’ is the culmination of not only Reali-T’s career but Tomilola Ayilara’s life. A deeply personal and heartfelt album ‘Stay Tuned’ takes on individual insecurities, societal stresses and cultural controversies Reali-T is inherently invested in.
In the past Reali-T has established a brand for himself as an artist with the ability to work lyrically on two different levels. Sometimes his writing can come across as overly simplistic, with a deliberate nursery rhyme essence and mainstream quality punchlines. Those very same lines are working on another plane however, working within multiple entendres to appease the hip-hop heads savvy enough to catch the double meanings, without scary off a casual listener.
Listen to any past Reali-T song and you know of his tongue in cheek style, ready to poke fun at anyone who takes themselves too seriously. ‘Stay Tuned’’s lead single ‘Smile For The Camera’ epitomises this all too well. Parodying the road rappers you’ll find plastered over the main urban outlets in contemporary UK music, Reali-T swaps skengs for water pistols, luxury sports cars for a BMX and expensive alcohol for Ribena.
On ‘Stay Tuned’ there’s definitely some time given to re-establishing Reali-T’s brand. There’s the mention of selling drugs legally with a degree in pharmacy, and songs like ‘Bounce…If You Want To’ and ‘Don’t Chat’ reaffirm the lyrical ability to work across different levels. At surface level the latter, produced by Naughty40, is a standard braggadocios pseudo-diss track to nobody in particular. Those with more knowledge around the recent history of local hip-hop will be able to offer an educated guess to the target of the first verse’s local rappers who don’t want to see the ‘SceNE’ succeed alongisde the second verse’s “MCs who came before us.”
Endem’s name might never be said but anyone who followed the ‘King Of The North’ controversy from August 2016 should be able to work out the opening bars for the third verse are directed towards the Legitimate Anarchy rapper. The mentions in the third verse to Blitz, HB and track producer Naughty40 should be enough to give that one away.
Interestingly though, Reali-T makes reference to his own controversial name dropping anthem ‘How To Rob…North East’ rapping “Said I robbed Jister, I was just teasing.” Is it hypocritical for Reali-T to condemn Endem’s ‘King Of The North’ when ‘your boy from Hackney’ did almost the same thing? In this instants ‘almost’ makes a big difference. Where Endem outright dissed HB, TM and Gang:Greenz, Reali-T was “just teasing”, with his light hearted tongue-in-cheek jab at the biggest names in the North East scene.
Having heard ‘Bounce…If You Want To’ performed live months ago during a New North East gig in Sunderland, I’ve been waiting for the finished product. Apparently ‘Bounce…If You Want To’ is a bit like a bus. You wait ages for one, and then two come at the same time. At his album release soiree in Gateshead’s Arch Sixteen Cafe, Reali-T explained he contacted two different engineers, Tuckage and Silvar Laidlow, both well known local rappers in their own right. When he couldn’t decide on which mix he preferred, Reali-T put them both on the album. “Kids these days hungover at breakfast, blame it on the booze when they act reckless, right now my bro is so Pistorious, still taking shots even though he’s legless” is easily my favourite bar on “Stay Tuned.”
Other than ‘Too Comfortable’ which has the longest intro ever but a stand-out second verse, the rest of the album takes a more serious turn. When Reali-T announced the album I was definitely expecting a dozen reincarnations of bangers like loose cut ‘No Way.’ I would have never predicted an album full of socially conscious messages, but I am more than happy to be proven wrong. Reali-T used to close New North East gigs with anti-police oppression acapella which became the first verse for ‘Why We’re So Mad’, so its not like I ever doubted his ability to do so, I just thought Reali-T was more Krept & Konan than Old Fire Young Flame.
Reali-T takes shots at racial discriminations throughout the album, none so more prominently than opener ‘Black Guy In Your Neighbourhood.’ The track twists that parodic style the Hackney born rapper has perfected over the years, and gives it very serious undertones of a powerful message. It isn’t hard to believe that a white, middle class family might call the estate agent because a black neighbour wasn’t included in the brochure. With hilarious notions of Eminem and Drake as white-friendly hip-hop and lyrics like “the only thing I might steal is your WiFi”, Reali-T proves a masterful ability to blend parody with a poignant and purposeful meaning within his music.
On ‘Contain’, Reali-T takes a more personal approach to the examination of racial discrimination in expressing his faith in God. There’s also acknowledgement to black-on-black murder and those protesting ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests as he insists “my eyes are open they’ve never been so wide” signalling that there have been recent events which inspired the more political content on this album than we’re used to from the rapper.
As aforementioned, the album contains not only societal and cultural commentary but personal introspection too. On ‘Danny Glover’, Reali-T asks if he’s “too old for this shit”, tackles writers block on the Sutherland assisted “That Block” and truly shines on the first verse of ‘Like A Baby.’ On the latter track, Reali-T further alludes to the rumour that is already circling that New North East aren’t as strong a collective as they once were, rapping “part of a group but feel so low.” The second verse will have anyone in their feelings who has ever fronted on social media about how great life is when in reality it’s not, making for yet another stand-out verse from the album. My only problem with the track is the corny ‘delight like Sean Paul’ chorus. Mainstream fans will probably love it, but I’m not here for that level of cringe – fortunately the verses more than make up for it.
As a full body of work, ‘Stay Tuned’ is solid. Reali-T manages to maintain a balance of purposeful poignancy with enough humour to ensure his message doesn’t come across as a lecture. It’s been a good year for album releases across the genre of hip-hop but eight months in, ‘Stay Tuned’ is up there with the best of them.