If you set your life to music, what would it sound like? A difficult question to answer, but TY, the Brixton rapper now on to his fifth album, is doing just that.
A Work Of Heart – nice punning – is effectively his autobiography to date, and it is delivered in the same assured tones of the previous four. It also contains the same pertinent lyrical insights into politics, social issues, upbringing, race – and the state of the world in which the artist finds himself.
Now in his mid-40s, TY – along with fellow South Londoner Roots Manuva – is well placed to view the grime of today and its longer lasting hip hop cousins. Unlike Roots Manuva, he has stayed in the same place, watching South London develop close by – an experience capped by Brixton Baby, a beautifully observed postcard portrait of his home borough. “Born and raised from the days when it wasn’t safe to gaze, cos some people had their ways”, TY tells the story in typically clever wordplay that makes you alternately smile and frown.
TY faces all of these issues with a resolute positivity that runs throughout, standing tall no matter what the obstacles. The upward thinking Eyes Open encapsulates this (“Keep your eyes open, keep your ears open, keep your mind open”). This is complemented by the slower You Gave Me, the longest track on the album, a profound autobiographical tale where he admits that he tried to quash his talent, “tried to shut it down, made it ten times worse!”
He moves easily between personal and global concerns. For the former, the title track muses on his own creative process over chunky, funky bass, while Marathon talks of everyday struggles “running laps in your marathon”. For the latter, No Place To Run concentrates on the crowded Earth, with “7 billion and counting, soon no more water from the fountain”. Ty waits for more than three minutes to give a response to the vocal, a risky move that pays off through his conclusion that “it’s how you partake, participate while living in a box”.
The music is extremely approachable but never too comfortable – The Raspberry, for instance, fields a greater personal resentment. There are clever nuggets to enjoy throughout, such as the brief nod to Kung Fu Fighting in Eyes Open, the use of The Jets’ Crush On You to underpin Folks Say People Say, and some lyrical nods to the artists of TY’s youth – James Brown, Roy Ayers, General Levy. The spirit of each informs his approach in some way, while keeping a clear pathway to the creator’s heart and soul.
All these ingredients combine to make A Work Of Heart the positive, life affirming work of art its creator clearly wants it to be. On it Ty feels like an older, wiser brother who doesn’t preach – but who also has your back at all times. He deserves be acknowledged in the same breath as Roots Manuva, Stormzy and Skepta, demonstrating the same high level of musical expression and lyrical insight. He has set his life to music here, and it demands to be heard.