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Is Unknown T UK Rap’s Perennial Prince in Waiting?

His breakout song was drill but "Throwback" leans into UK garage. Is he the next UK rap star in waiting – making quality over quantity?

by Ryan Bassil
19 February 2019, 10:58am

Photo: Kay Ibrahim; Styling: Kiera Liberati

Cast your mind back and place it somewhere around summertime, 2003. If you’re of a certain age – say, born in the late 80s to mid 90s – there’s a good chance you’ve retained strong nostalgic links to that era. Think: riding on the top deck of the bus, using bluetooth to send Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv U” to a friend’s Sony Ericsson. Strawberry Mirinda and a junior spesh – a colloquial term for cheap chicken shop dinners, immortalised in this tune. New Era caps and Clarks. That sort of thing.

Unknown T captures that wistful feeling – one that isn’t just related to fashion and food but also about those moments where the sun seemed to shine across the block, all day, everyday – on his latest track “Throwback”. The rising superstar from Homerton is an interesting proposition. So far, he’s enjoyed one major hit: the raucous and bubbly “Homerton B,” which followed his 2017 banger “Bop With Smoke” and ended up being one of the best British tracks of the year, rap or otherwise.

On “Homerton B”, T detailed what could be perceived as a life on road. On the opening verse he spat “Whack, whack, pull up, skrrt, reverse / Bang, the ting goes back in the jacket”, before then ignantly getting into the specifics of how he treats the women in his life (having sex with them, then leaving to “bag up some more spinach”). It was blaise yet refreshing; ignorant but with no holds-barred. Plus, T could really flow and it was clear “Homerton B” wasn’t a one off. As UK rap tracks go, it was cold. It’s also completely different to the follow-up tune “Throwback”, released last Friday (listen below).

First up, the track samples “Wifey Riddim” – a UK-garage-tinged instrumental that’s practically written into UK musical lore and built around a female-led hook and ice-pop soft production, making “Throwback” a brighter, less masculine driven track than “Homerton B”. For those who know their stuff, “Wifey Riddim” has been sampled by a bunch of rappers – AJ Tracey, Tinie Tempah, et al – and they’re often the closest UK rap has come to getting romantic, or at least the closest to something as cute and touching as Kano and Mike Skinner’s “Nite Nite”. But just as Unknown T’s new one is different to “Homerton B”, it’s also different to every other tune that’s sampled “Wifey Riddim”.

The track first appeared in an infamous Fire In The Booth session from October 2018 and instead of talking about girls, the track – as it’s title suggests – is a “Throwback” to earlier times. It’s heartfelt, hearing T go from rapping about drillings and chickens on his debut to reminiscing about “all the good memories that I own” on this new one. It’s also telling of his versatility as a rapper – something that seemed obvious when he first popped up alongside rapper KO in one of Westwood’s infamous (and since taken down) Crib Sessions from 2017, but is solidified here by T’s willingness to transfer across subject matter and sound with clear ease.

And though the light, sun dappled sound of “Throwback” stands at opposition to the rain-beaten instrumental of “Homerton B”, there’s still a similarly addictive melody. Unknown T has an ear for a hook, basically. It’s nice to see him taking his time too, releasing tracks with ease – putting quality over quantity. Keep an eye and an ear out for what he does next and in the meantime grab some Um Bungo from Tesco (they’ve started selling it again in 1 litre bottles, I’m not lying, why would I lie).

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