Sleeks' Paper Cuts: Album Review
Smoke Boys have been quietly putting in work for a while now, raising the bar for drill and cementing the group as a staple of the UK scene, both as a group and individually. Initially known as Section, the South London based group skyrocketed to the top organically but rapidly.
The early mixtapes turned to huge singles, huge singles turned to chart success and chart success turned into international attention, most notably in a legendary performance with Drake.
But in recent years, Smoke Boys found themselves on the backfoot - the music that earned them their success - melodic but lyrical bangers that were not quite grime, not quite trap, but firmly London - was overshadowed by drill, and they were further held back by legal issues that forced them to change their name.
However, they’ve earned their respect by adapting to the climate with a slew of solo projects, singles and freestyles. Here we have the latest instalment, as standout member Sleeks drops his first solo project, Paper Cuts.
What To Expect
The answer to Swifts’ Swiftionary and Deepee’s Tourist series, Sleeks reminds us that no one in the crew is being carried. It’s a solid tape featuring a wide range of styles of music, elite flows and incredible production. 10 bangers, some for the guys and some for the girls.
The project starts us off with Trap Rap, a loosie that was dropped at the top of the year. I covered that song myself and praised it for Sleeks’ cold flows, and the unsurprisingly explosive M1 and MK collab. Filled with brag raps and a catchy hook, this song is an impressive intro that sets you up for the rest of the tape. Their ethereal, spacy production is honestly perfect for Sleeks who seems to be in his element on these icy beats.
From there, Sleeks’ talents shine. He leads us into drill for the first part of the tape, with the straight up evil Headie One collaboration ‘Middle Man’. This is a trappers anthem that sees Headie in his element. Whether it’s RV, Skepta, Belly Squad or even Drake, Headie’s feature game never lacks and he shines on his hook and his verse, tearing the Sykes and HL8 beat to shreds.
If Trap Rap was the glamour then Middle Man is the grime, depicitng the not-so-rosy experiences of violence and crime Sleeks endured in his come up. And it’s a similar story on ‘On Piss’, as Sleeks brings back the underrated and under the radar DoRoad. His booming, commanding voice makes a nice contrast from Sleeks’ higher-pitched shots, giving us an old school drill banger, where they compete for the best verse.
The Softer Side
This is far from a drill tape though, and there are a number of standout songs once Sleeks starts to slow it down. From the melodic afro-swing tune with Chip and the catchy vibe that is ‘One Step Forward. One Step Forward leans more on rap flows and a surprisingly catchy hook, but it’s unfortunately not the kind of melodic banger that old tunes like ‘Delete My Number’ were. If that’s what you were looking for from Sleeks, the expected Smoke Boys feature ‘Details’ scratches that itch.
The wavy trap beat and catchy hook interpolating ‘Bedrock’ by Young Money will stick in your head all day, while Deepee, Swift, Sleeks and Inch bring their incredible chemistry and rapid fire verses that make this a true highlight on the tape.
The tape is not without its slight weaknesses though; Sleeks often leaves the hooks to his features, meaning that they take up more of the song than he does. This is a great idea with Nafe Smallz, who takes an already great and unique song in All For Da Cheddar to another level, but this problem is glaringly obvious on Middle Man. Furthermore, ‘COVID Drought’ doesn’t seem to separate the drill bangers from the melodic tunes well enough to make a cohesive project. But the great production and Sleeks’ talent as a rapper mean that this problem is more about structure than quality.
Overall, Paper Cuts is a nice project that highlights Sleeks’ rapping ability and ear for beats. It’s never boring or repetitive, and is short enough to make you asking what’s next - both for Sleeks and for Smoke Boys as a crew.