Apparently in Scotland rapper Loki has been described by the press as "Neddy Burns, The Poet Laureate of the NED Generation". For those of you unfamiliar with the term NED, it is the Scottish equivalent of Scally or Chav, terms used to dehumanize (typically young) members of the working class. Upon listening to Loki's latest album, "Friendly World", one might find themselves scratching their head in confusion, as celebrations of loutish behavior and tales of smacking people over the head with a bottle of Buckfast do not feature too prominently – if at all – on the album. In fact, it is only on the thundering "Escape From Arkham" that Loki ever sounds in any way outwardly violent and threatening. Though he spits on half of the album as if he is about to spontaneously combust, the hurt and wrath that he expresses seem to be more the result of one mans quest to make sense of the torment in his
The album kicks off with "So Nasty", a hard hitting track that introduces the rapper as, not only a vicious lyricist, but as a deeply disturbed individual who is unhappy unless he is directly involved in the creative process of his music. The song is also your first test as a listener. Can you deal with the accent? No? Then fuck off and cop the new Jeezy (That's RIIIIGHT).
The following track, "Profit A Man", is evidence that we are dealing with an altogether different kind of emcee. While it is ultimately a critique of materialism and apathy, it cuts deeper and attacks arm chair revolutionaries and poseurs, and actually suggests partaking in the democratic process through letter writing and voting. While this may not be as romantic or dramatic as hurling Molotov cocktails at tanks (and perhaps – in certain cases – not as effective, one might argue) it is attacking the revolutionary posturing that is rampant in the Hip Hop scene and University campuses the world over.
But it's a series of deeply personal songs that form the narrative spine of the record. Songs like "Littlest Hobo", "Forget Me Not" and "No Way Back" are brilliant and heart wrenching descriptions and vignettes of the rappers' life. He illustrates his torment in such vivid detail, recanting terrible times with such lucidity that it is almost shocking. This is Loki at his best.
It's on the 8 minute long "Loki's Dead" that Loki sets himself apart most drastically from any other emcee, Scottish, British or otherwise. In it he enters into battle with his own alter ego, avoiding at every step the cheesy pitfalls that the likes of Eminem constantly fall into when taking a stab at "concepts". As a result it is one of the most lyrically mind bending rap songs one will hear, and is deeply unsettling to find oneself privy to the internal battle of one mans mind, slowly descending, judging and destroying itself.
If "Loki's Dead" is the sound of one man quietly falling apart internally then the albums' closer, "Friendly World", is the sound of a man watching his world collapse externally. The beat is manic and dramatic. Loki frantically raps over it, desperately trying to decipher the meaning of it's inevitable destruction, but ultimately failing to comprehend mankind's need to render it's entire experience to a pile of burning rubble. "What ever happened to just being friendly?" he demands at the end of the first verse. It's almost funny. It's reminiscent of George Carlin or Bill Hicks, dramatically depicting the world falling apart around them, but just cracking wise and laughing at it all.
While Loki's music is undeniably a product of the Glaswegian working class the depth and humanity of his work transcends any simplistic notion that is limited to such an experience. The themes that make up the core of the album are universal, and his ability and skill as an emcee and writer make it impossible to dismiss his body of work as something that is merely representative of a locality. This is not to imply that he is destined for the crossover success that the likes of The Streets or Dizzee Rascal have enjoyed. It does, however, point to the fact that "Friendly World" is an album that has the ability to reach far beyond Glasgow, Scotland and the UK. Whether or not this will lead to commercial success should be inconsequential to the listener.
It is a deeply human and personal album. It manages to be humorous, heart breaking and, at times, deeply uncomfortable. It triumphs not only as a Hip Hop album, but also as a piece of work that has the ability to convey the very essence of one mans experience in the chaotic world that he inhabits.