You may have found your way to this review without any idea of who Yungen, the man behind Project Black and Red is. You may not know that he produces music so mature beyond his 21 years that he’s been hailed by DJ Semtex and Jamal Edwards as one of the brightest talents in the game, or even that he’s signed to the geniuses that are Krept & Konan’s label Play Dirty. And that’s fine – because I didn’t either.
Perhaps the best tribute to Yungen, then, is that after just one play of his album, I want to hear so much more from him. Right from Kai Ryder’s beautiful hook on the opener ‘Life of Sin’, Yungen paints a picture of South London and how he came to be a success, setting an example for his nephew, having hid from police and dealt drugs. “Live before you die, that’s all I preach”, he spits. It’s a simple sentiment, but one that, paired with the layered storytelling present throughout, showcases everything Yungen’s about.
‘Too Real’, the first track of the “Red” half of the project, almost acts as part two of ‘Life of Sin’, with Yungen stressing that even since making it in music, life still isn’t easy. It features the classy Jhene Aiko style hook of Elise, with her whispers of “You’re too real” helping create an image of the rapper thinking aloud. Look out for his angry explanation of what he thought when Krept & Konan won their first MOBO last year, adamantly exclaiming: “forget music, them man are my brothers”, answering any rumours of his jealousy.
Krept & Konan, incidentally, star on the previous track ‘#JustSayin’, in one of the album’s several big name features. It’s explosive, careless and full of tongue-in-cheek references like “Whip German, that brother top Italian, got her biting on my shoulder like she Suarez”. The trio blend their references, which also include Kanye West, The Weeknd and Schoolboy Q, with what is without doubt the strongest beat on the LP, and in turn the best record.
Wretch 32 will grab your attention with his ‘I Know’ verse, in a tune that deserves to be all over 1Xtra. He steals Yungen’s limelight with: “I’m like Ozil to my squad, when I provide, on my life, they get Messi in my box”; the best bar on any of the 13 tracks, but don’t sleep on the “same kid who’s putting in work, same kid who’s making your girl twerk” as Yungen defines himself. The youngster doesn’t shy away from what his elder brands “Wretchercise”, and that makes for a fiery record that finds the balance of radio-worthy while staying true to the background.
Project Black and Red is best encapsulated in the schizophrenic ‘Big Man / All You Gotta Do’. ‘Big Man’ is, as you’ll expect, an egotistic exhibition of condescending outlooks on those that surround him. “Big man catching bus to link a female, splashes uni dough now he’s working retail” he laughs. Stormzy soon joins in, with a verse of the same condescending tone, smirking: “How you buying out the bar, when you can’t even buy yourself a car?” before the beat, tone and message do a complete 180 and Yungen tells us to dream on ‘All You Gotta Do’. “Watching Tinie in the O2 shut it down, Hoping next time that I’m not in the crowd” he spits, looking up at an idol having only moments before been looking down at others. Juxtaposing the two tracks is a curious combination, and it’ll leave you scratching your head as to what Yungen is actually trying to say.
At brief points in Project Black and Red, that’s a theme, and in some tracks like ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’, where he simply declares exactly that, it’s difficult to argue he offers anything fresh or interesting. Equally though, Yungen’s wordplay shines through, as on the project’s finale ‘The Moment’: “That’s just the moment, you either live it or you lose it, time becomes your opponent”. It’s those lyrics that, like me, will have you wanting more from Yungen, and anyone with the slightest urban musical knowledge can recognise the sparkling talent he has.