Photo: Island Records
Photo: Island Records

ADRIAN WILLIAMS

To talk about Chicken and Egg without speaking about the album's emotion would be like trying to review it without talking about the music.

Chicken and Egg is a visceral portrayal of the struggles of young fatherless men raised in the impoverished areas of London. It is starkly different to George the Poet's previous single Snatch, a humorous comment on small-to-moderate scale London crime, reminiscent of The Streets.

This album does contain the odd wry comment on life, but is tonally completely different. Its central themes are despair, loss and a fruitless search for guidance. At its core, Chicken and Egg is about the struggle against expectation, versus the inevitability of following the path laid out for you.

George's music is driven by his lyrics, which form a ballad; he tells linear stories of individual everyday struggles. There is less reliance on refrains and samples to provide the message compared to other rap tracks. He has a talent for rhyme beyond what we're used to in the mainstream; at no point does it feel as though he has compromised meaning for the sake of an easier rhyme.

There is an increasing tendency in underground rap for artists to write frankly about their personal problems and innermost thoughts. George the Poet is of this school, on top of which he keenly observes our life and times in the city. There is vulnerability and brutality in his honesty – some of his lyrics deal with difficult subjects most artists wouldn't touch, like the truth and trauma of a miscarriage.

Thoughts expressed seem to be a mixture of attitudes, particularly in first track If the Shoe Fits, where he writes in part from the perspective of the woman in a bad relationship. This ability to access the thoughts of people in different situations is lacking from rap as a genre, which tends to be narrow in its approach. Chicken and Egg shows refreshing self-awareness about the contradictions of humans in relationships.

It is a melancholy, dreamlike mix, a stream of consciousness laid over minimalistic, mellow tones, cut with experimental sounds representing a range of things from war drums to an irregular heartbeat, as if walking towards death and judgement. This album is the sound of intimate nights and lazy mornings, with slow, soft beats and background track. This is sometimes jarringly interrupted with voice distortions, as if the stark realities of freedom versus commitments, maturity, impotent rage, suspicion, regret, betrayal and distrust have pushed their way through dreams.

Yet, however poetically presented, the lyrics stay firmly grounded in conversations between couples. The confusion about who is speaking gives the sense that the character is arguing with himself, fretting alone in loneliness, trying to decide his future without guidance from a proper role model. It is as though he is outside of his own head, watching his own decisions.

All of the tracks relate to relationships and the all-consuming rage caused by love that makes monsters of everyone. Sex is of course an important part of this, though not in the usual rapper way; Chicken and Egg is riddled with crippling anxiety over potential fatherhood and the complications of contraceptives. Fear of responsibility and entrapment overshadow everyday events and desperation dominates all else. Chicken and Egg is a tale about the conflict of traditional masculinity set against the concerns and sensibilities of the 21st century.