Manonmars, the self-titled debut record from Young Echo member Jack Richardson, sounds a shocking amount like the end of the world. Being the love-child of young visual artist, photographer and rapper Manonmars and brilliant producer O$VMV$M (the bleaker of their two projects – In Colour, released last year, is much lighter and still great), Manonmars brilliantly capture a significant point in British hip-hop culture without seeming to care – this may be the first post-grime record, one that sees the typically excitable video-game sound of grime (a lot of early grime was actually produced on the original Playstation, and Skepta’s Konnichiwa, which ushered in the second-wave of grime in 2016, samples a range of video game sounds in its beats) taken to its bitter end – distorted, glitchy sounds to sparse drum beats and sounds lost in space. ‘Billin’’s beat sounds much like a distorted, painful groan matching the oppressive drums and Manonmars’ almost-always monotone, slow delivery.
‘Vacate’, maybe the record’s best track, is noticeably different – the gentle chimes are genuinely gorgeous, and a raw vulnerability is introduced which has, to this point, been lost in the hedonistic hellscape conjured by every other track. There’s something to be said about Manonmars’ lyrics and delivery too, of course: the consistent focuses on drugs, women and light bragging seem to actually take away from everything about the sound itself, creating an uncomfortable gap between what O$VMV$M’s production and Manonmars’ lyrical delivery seem to be suggesting and what the lyrics themselves are actually saying. Jack’s music-literacy, especially for his young age, is impressive – mentions go to more obvious influences including Mos Def and KMD (the hip-hop group that saw MF DOOM get his start as Zev Love X) to the far more obscure Suzi Analogue (beat-tape extraordinaire – her work is brilliant), and again, all of these influences are so much lighter than Richardson’s own project; one that feels as if it were birthed by anger and nursed by rage.
It’s a record that makes its listener uncomfortable, undoubtedly – for every fun, classical punchline (underground UK hip-hop is crammed with brilliant punchlines) such as ‘Manonmars, you n***** ain’t even past the moon’, there is an equally grim introspective line, for example in the very same song Richardson says ‘sick and tired of looking back and forth for my better days’ (both quotes from ‘Getaway’). Evidently, this is a record that does it all at once, which sounds like a sure-fire recipe for disaster and yet because of the confidence in the sound and the chosen dedication to it, everything works beautifully. There’s something slightly inexplicable about hearing Manonmars slowly, lethargically even, detail his cynical and nihilistic viewpoints towards life, something about lines like ‘I don’t want no kids, I’m tryna burn the money, spend it all’ that makes Manonmars utterly unforgettable as a morbid, brutal entertainment. It’s impossibly sparse, hard to listen to and frequently miserable, and yet that’s exactly what makes it so brilliant – during a time where both U.K. and US hip-hop lean progressively towards more energetic and aggressive sounds, this record goes the other way and instead folds a level of depression over the facade. As dark, murky hip-hop like this becomes increasingly difficult to find, a record like this needs to be recognised, especially a record as brilliant as this. It’s a unique, ridiculously strong and, at times, brutally sad debut record that shows a staggering amount of promise – and it may just be the best UK rap album since Konnichiwa.
Manonmars is distributed by Young Echo records. It is currently streaming and available on (limited) vinyl. Listen to ‘Milk’ and ‘Never’ below: