Album Reviews

Stefflon Don – Island 54

(54 London) UK release date: 28 June 2024

Brummie singer/rapper delivers her wide-ranging and long-awaited debut

Stefflon Don - Island 54 ‘Development hell’ is a term normally used to describe movies, as practical questions abound over casting, direction and studio ownership. With music, however, the issue is often more conceptual: are audiences ready for a Stefflon Don studio album, whatever it may contain? We are closer than ever to an answer as Island 54 finally comes out 6 years after her Secure mixtape, featuring a mixture of afrobeats, amapiano and dancehall as well as guest appearances from D-Block Europe and Buju Banton.

The first 20 minutes of the album are killer, with the rumbling trap beat of Top Toppa giving way to Dweet’s syncopated percussive hits, Stefflon’s patois-laden vocals riding over both with ease. Money Grip is a brief, raunchy highlight (“even though me have a million me need a billion / flow like the AC, swing like a fan / pussy diamond, make him sing a hit song / lick it ‘til it dry, boy, you know the program”) while Solo is a more laidback cut, the signature rum-pum-pum of FM bass only making its appearance a couple of times.

The weaker tracks are mellow and gooey, the type of inoffensive afrobeats one might hear in a trendy clothes shop – What’s Poppin has a nice horn section in the background but not much more to recommend it, and the vocal layers of Stefflon and Tayc on Desire are overbearing. Of the songs in this vein Problems In Paradise is perhaps the best, an appealing chord sequence played on guitar and an anguished topline about relationship woes – it sounds like a song Khalid would perform a few years ago, in the most flattering way.

Further on in the tracklist, Brothers POV brings a hard-hitting and poignant performance (“concrete living in this hell, I’m like ‘why me?’ / measuring progression through depression with no timepiece”) and the chemistry is surprisingly strong between her and Young Adz on Madam Moiselle. The track is much more on D-Block Europe’s territory, with subtle pads and restless hi-hats underneath punchy 808 kicks, but Stefflon has always had options of flows to pick from.

Amongst these 20 tracks there is real talent and versatility, and when Stefflon is playing to her strengths Island 54 is great fun. More stylistic focus and consistency would be welcome next time round, which will hopefully come a lot sooner than 2030.

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