Not many rappers can claim to have chinned an ex-Prime Minister’s son, but it’s a legitimate boast for Hackney’s Mikill Pane. The scene for this incident was the illustrious London Oratory School, where a young(er) Justin Smith Uzomba drove his fist into the face of Euan Blair, Tony’s eldest child.
Expulsion followed shortly after and it was at his next destination, Highgate’s Saint Aloysius’ College, that Pane met the inspiration behind this album: Miss Barclay.
“She taught me that it’s not just what you write but how it’s said/That makes a rhetoric explosive enough to make a page a powder-cake” he raps on the album’s opening track of the same name. It marks one of the album’s best songs, addressing national topics such as the London riots (he doesn’t approve) as well as his personal aspirations and motivations within the industry.
“Barack Obama’s not the only black man that can change things/My priorities are clear, I don’t just write this stuff for payment/My bank balance is at the bottom of the list and that’s an understatement”, he rhymes in the third and final verse. He’s certainly not trying to be a hipster (‘I’ve Realised’ humorously details his complex relationship with hipster fans), but it is evident that finances are not the fuel that burns Pane’s fire.
The album’s versatility is one of it’s biggest plus points, and Pane’s tone can switch from jokey to serious in a matter of seconds. ‘Summer In the City’ plays as an unofficial anthem to British summers. “England’s never got it for long/You know it’s fucked up when even the Met office are wrong” he rhymes in the opening verse. ‘Dirty Rider’ and ‘Good Feeling’ continue the feel-good vibe, the former detailing Pane’s love of bikes and the latter addressing the many highs and lows of student life. Pane himself has had an interesting student experience admitting, “I went to uni four times and walked out every single time”.
The beauty of Blame Miss Barclay is that it both inspires and thrills in equal measure. A series of catchy, acoustic hooks serve as the perfect platform for Pane’s casual, carefree rhymes, but they are not the only feature of a 15-song strong debut.
There are a few familiar faces, the excellent ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and ‘Lucky’ have been around for a couple of years now, but they do not represent low points. ‘Lucky’ is one of the most powerful songs on the album, showcasing Pane’s natural story-telling ability in a dark setting. “They call you lucky” he raps before depicting the scene of destructive car wreckage. “Witnesses would say that your driving was reckless/There were none/Your mum and sister died in the wreckage”. It’s a serious song with a powerful message.
Blame Miss Barclay’s finale ‘The End’ is a ballad of sorts, as Pane sings his way through the final four minutes of the album. Everything about it shouldn’t work, yet you find yourself mesmerised by a grief-stricken voice that offers you a different side to Mikill Pane, the ill MC and perhaps even a glimpse at Justin Smith Uzomba, the college student who fell in love with the English language. He has Miss Barclay to thank for that, and on the evidence of this excellent debut, so do we.
Blame Miss Barclay is available now on iTunes in (in standard and deluxe editions) and in stores. The deluxe edition features a further four tracks and an interesting behind-the-scenes documentary, well worth the extra two quid!