Although this album is a showcase for the skills of both artists, some poor execution involving confusing lyrics, shallow production, and some cringe-inducing moments make for a strange uneven listen.
From July 2017 to April 2019, Olajide Olatunji (also known as YouTube legend KSI) has had a massive change of career from FIFA videos to multi-million YouTube Boxing fights – and now he has his first full-length album in collaboration with fellow long-time YouTube rapper Randolph (‘Heskey Time’). His hit single ‘Lamborghini’ and his Keep Up EP were more of dips than serious plunges into music production, but his comeback track ‘Creature’ followed by EPs Space and Disstracktions showed this latter approach to music (which at times were cringe-inducing, but also admirable, considering how he started in a tiny bedroom in Watford playing video-games to a fast-growing army of followers). It’s very hard to not give some kind of respect to JJ for this change in trajectory and rebrand of his identity, but creating an album is a tough challenge, and whilst New Age has got some interesting ideas on point, it’s unfortunate how only a few hang together.
From the opening track ‘New Age’ an immediate pattern emerges that was very hard to ignore throughout the first half of the album, and that is the contrasting approaches between Randolph and KSI’s lyrics. On ‘New Age’, Randolph is providing meaning with his words as he raps about his distaste for the current music industry and that he “ain’t bowing to a briefcase”, which is in line with one of the aims for this album: to prove success can be made with or without a music label backing it up. Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, JJ starts rapping about his untouched fame, him being “a pioneer”, having threesomes and making money, which makes it incredibly confusing to work out just what the song is about. Is it about fame, the music industry, a new age? I will never decide.
Following on from that, the next three tracks are even more baffling; it’s like listening to some young rapper’s gig and not understanding what they’re saying but someone next to you cries, “fuck knows, but their flow is sick”.
‘Beerus’ is sort of about Randolph and KSI dissing their haters and comparing themselves as Gods, and although JJ’s quick and bristling flow over some eerie Eastern influenced production is exciting and pulsating, “Young winner, young sinner, peace out when I’m done in her” is pretty much unreadable. ‘Champagne’ is half a dig at Logan Paul but, the chorus suddenly conveys a message of how fame doesn’t last forever (?), and ‘Clean’ has the line “Keep her swimming like I’m Dory, I can hardly breathe” that makes no sense within the rest of the track’s shallow production.
Then comes one of the album’s biggest disappointments, ‘Real Name’ featuring Simon’s (AKA Miniminter) girlfriend and upcoming YouTube singer Talia Mar. Randolph and Talia Mar’s chorus is interesting as the lyrics suggest the struggles of relationships because of their YouTube personas and how the other half is getting way too comfortable and wants to know their real name. As well, Talia Mar’s sweet poppy voice is backed up by some nice playful production which is reminiscent of Iglooghost, but suddenly both JJ and Randolph’s verses take completely different turns that are cringe-inducing and extremely crass. It seems as though it will verge into another diss track that is totally unnecessary with the track’s tone, whilst JJ’s voice doesn’t fit well with this style of music.
On the other hand, as though the album is about to continue its interminable descent after another vapid, vacuous track (‘Slow-Motion’), everything suddenly snaps back into focus with the song ‘Red Alert’ as both artists rap about how enemies are trying to bring them down and that they must be on red alert or “end up in the dirt”. For the first time, JJ is saying something meaningful and somewhat opening up about his personal life rather than bragging about his money and fame, and both rappers seem to be in sync then rapping about different things.
This sudden change in focus continues into the final two tracks of the album, ‘Pull Up’ with KSI featuring grime legend JME, and ‘Roll the Dice’ with Randolph featuring YouTube rapper Quadeca, who recently had a diss war with KSI but are now on good terms.
Despite a Drill-style beat that is low-key and slightly shallow, ‘Pull Up’ is the best song on the album with a fun cheesy verse from JJ followed by a terrific feature verse from JME which full of wit and wordplay that mocks the lifestyle of a roadman and still has me laughing at different lines on repeat listens. ‘Roll the Dice’, on the other hand, is another great track with a catchy hook and well-written verses from Randolph and Quadeca, but is about risk-taking and the unpredictability that their futures hold for them both, which adds for a slightly ominous but strong finish to the record.
Examining New Age as a whole, it’s very easy to write that all the songs are exactly the same with similar bland production throughout with no cohesiveness and dull lyrics. But that would be failing to grasp the intent that this album is trying to convey, which are a collection of songs that showcase both artists rapping skills and highlight the vast milestones that they’ve had to get here. Unfortunately, the constant weak execution of these tracks is impossible to ignore and one wishes if they spent more time on this and postponed the tour, the outcome would’ve been different.
New Age is out now via a self independent label