PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
Progression EP is available at:
11th August, 2017
What Goes Around
Something to Say
Down, Part 2
Down; Basic; Down, Part 2
THE reason I come back to certain artists...
is the fact they have progressed and are doing something great – since I last headed their way. Avowedly dedicated to promoting the best and most progressive music; it is back to Signal and an artist who has made big strides over the past few years. I will come to him specifically in a bit but, right now, wanted to address the Urban explosion and how vital those genres/styles are. I will take a nod to originality and the development of Hip-Hop; collaboration and economy – when not too crowded but essential to the flow – and freshness music needs to remain relevant. I will take a gander at British artists rivaling American sounds and acts putting their first E.P. out – finishing by taking some time to examine London and artists who have a proximity to the capital. It is interesting the way music has transformed the last year-or-so. I have been watching closely but am seeing a shift in more mainstream tastes and those artists on the periphery. If one considers a time, not long ago, when Pop used to rule the roost. Now, could you not argue, it is those of Hip-Hop/Rap that is starting to make the bigger impression. I can extend that to Grime and see a clash between British and American styles.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
Of course, other acts like Sampha are not really in the Hip-Hop mould but, through his beautiful and personal songs, speaks the truth. Truth is an element essential when it comes to making genuine and long-lasting music. I find it is Urban artists articulating this in a fascinating way. One album that has sparked my mind this year is Dizzee Rascal’s Raskit. It is a return-to-form for the Bow master – someone accused of lacking edge and potency his past couple of albums. His sixth is stripped-down and returns to the kind of sound that made him a star – back when Boy in da Corner arrived in the world. Raskit is such a stunning album because it documents the struggle and divisions in the country but has that central voice that gets into the heart. Dizzee’s lyrics are as sharp as ever and always amaze me with their confidence and intelligence. He is a writer that is capable of mixing humour and savage attack and keeps his messages on-point. I cannot urge people strongly enough to get hold of the album and see what I am talking about. In any case; it is artists like him that are defining this year. Grime is a genre that has always been underground and, hearing acts like Signal rise, there is hope it will get wider appeal very soon. Naturally, Dam Amps’ alter-ego is more Rap/Hip-Hop but there is that grittiness and street-level mandate one hears in Dizzee Rascal’s work. Any artists who speak from the concrete and highlight that is happening around them, in some way, can be seen to be Grime. One of the things that amazes me about Signal’s music is the self-confidence and ambition in the music. The songs look more at sexual amore and artistic ambition; nostalgic nods and the voice of a man making his way in the world – maybe he will look at political issues and societal breakdown in future releases. I will come back to this later but, right now, a quick look back at Hip-Hop.
PHOTO CREDIT: Alex Sunshinesoul Douglas
I have mentioned Dizzee Rascal but, in guidance and example, I can bring in others like Loyle Carner. He, like Signal and Dizzee, are part of a spectrum of British artists that is taking control and showing the mainstream the possibilities of truly original and meaningful music. What impresses me about Carner’s (Mercury Prize-nominated) album, Yesterday’s Gone, is the way the young maestro talks about where he comes from – and where he is going – but fuses it with extraordinary scores and some incredible stories. It is such a confident and developed work for a young man on his debut record. One gets swathes of Jazz horns and some breakbeats; tales of working-class struggle and music not evolving sufficiently – tales of fakes and posers; modest and charming allusions to the importance of his mum. It is a mixed and busy album that, in my mind, should win the Mercury. I mention this because; in the way Dizzee is carving back territory and reclaiming his Grime crown: Carner is a leading light in the British Hip-Hop scene. There is no denying these two are part of a large scene that is taking dominance away from the mainstream artists – those manufactured and over-calculated. The naturalness and confidence one hears in Signal sits alongside contemporaries like Loyle Carner. What makes Signal intriguing is the fact he sits alongside other Hip-Hop artists but seems to straddle American and British sensibilities; has that confidence and ability to get people involved. BBC Radio 6 Music has recently put a feature out on Hip-Hop and the fact it turned forty-four. It is interesting watching the evolution and albums that have made the genre so important. I am a big fan of Hip-Hop and wonder whether, given the state of the world right now, we will see a lot more artists come to prominence. We require artists that can talk about what is happening in the world but, in a sense, produce some form of escapism. I find so much of what is happening in music bland and uninspiring right now. It is not good enough producing songs that seem to be good and have a quality to them – there are so many artists providing wishy-washy sounds that fade into obscurity. With many artists being accessed of lacking originality: I am pleased Signal has produced an E.P. exciting, consistent and fresh.
I have not mentioned collaborators in the credits of the Progression EP. One can go to Spotify and find out – and I shall mention them when reviewing – but it is interesting seeing the names Signal brings into the work. Producer and friend Jay Picasso features on most of the tracks. Blizzard arrives on the final track; EClipse makes an appearance and Chelsea Jade has a stunning turn. Like Dizzee and other artists of that ilk; Signal manages to recruit other voices but does not make the work too crowded. One of the reasons Dizzee’s music was getting flack – especially The Fifth – is the fact too many players were in the mix; the music was being watered-down and Pop-like. Now, on his follow-up, he keeps his voice true and singular but manages to introduce a few others into the mix – an album that is very much Dizzee’s voice but has some welcomed (outside) additions. I have been following Signal since the start and know how keen he is to ensure his words and voice is the ones that stick in the imagination. He does not want to be one of these artists that recruit legions of singers to help make his music pop. Progression EP benefits from having a few other vocal sounds but does not suffer from being too crowded and bloated. I am writing a piece this weekend that strikes against artists that have so many cohorts in their songs. I am finding, especially with Rap/Hip-Hop/Urban sounds, one discovers songs that have endless names on them. I see no point having four or five people on a single track. It means the central artist gets overlooked and those collaborators are not adding anything worthy or necessary. I agree we need to have duets and combine artists but there is an insanity cramming as many people into a song as you can. Signal, on his E.P., brings in the perfect number of bodies and those who naturally fit into the sound. He has bonded with these people and knows they will bring, as they do, quality and relevance to his work. It is not a lazy sense of tossing other people into the music – a carefully considered approach that ensures the songs get that extra bit of quality and potency. That is something other artists should learn from and it would have been so easy for Signal to have endless collaborators in every song. Luckily, it is the man himself who stands out and makes that huge impact. I will address this more in the conclusion but want to talk about Dan Amps’ attitude to work and promotion.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
I see his social media feed and get the impression of a young man for whom success and longevity mean everything. He does not want to be in music for a few years: there is the desire to remain and inspire for a lot longer. I know this will happen because he keeps promoting and pushing his music out there. He does not let a team do all the promotion and sit back: constantly engaging with the public and ensuring his songs get an airing. I have seen photos of him at charity events and playing clubs; niche events and strange nights that ensure, in some way, his music gets to new crowds. On social media, there are lots of updates and photos of the man. One of the biggest gripes I have about musicians is the fact so many ignore the relevance and importance of photos/images and updates. They think remaining anonymous and modest will get them into the public forum. This is counter-logical argument and one that really annoys me. There is no such problem when reviewing Signal. His music is fresh and explosive; his social media is well-stocked and he is someone that provokes plenty of thought. I am pleased he has this energy and is not lacking any drive. Few artists have that same level of determination. Let’s hope this all pays massively as, I think, there is a lot more from the man. He started at local-level and playing around Basingstoke. Gaining attention from the local press – every article complete with cringe-worthy ‘signal’ puns – that backing has given him the impetus to push and provoke. The ambition and determination from Dan Amps mean he does not want to remain a local hero. He is still based in the same area but it is only a matter of time before he makes a permanent move to the capital. That is something I will talk about but, looking at Signal from start to finish; it seems the prodigious work-rate will reap rewards. I have mentioned how the artist plays different clubs and gets his music to a range of people. Campaigning around the South; I wonder whether Signal has the promise and appeal to get his music heard further up the country. I know there is a big demand for Rap/Hip-Hop and those acts that strike hard. I am interested seeing where Signal heads in the coming months but he is gaining kudos and respect in London.
I feel those who live away from the big cities will struggle for any true and worthwhile attention. One needs to supplement that sense of detachment with a healthy and consistent attitude to work – getting the music in as many hands as possible. Signal is spreading the word and making sure Progression EP is played and spun by a range of stations. I know the songwriter is keen to get international exposure and can only imagine this will be around the corner. He is taking such an impressive and impassioned approach to promotion that that attention is fully deserved. There are too many resting on their laurels and assuming the music will take care of business. Music is such a competitive and busy market; nobody can afford to relax and assume they will get success. It is beyond naïve to assume you are the best out there and do not need to keep getting the work out there. Signal knows this and, every week, is out to the people and delivering his messages to the masses. I have discovered few that rival his physical and determined ethos – someone who never relents and consistently engages with the people. That marketing and promotional attitude is not reserved for performance. I have mentioned social media and how Signal puts status updates and photos out there. One cannot deny how effective a marketing tool social media is and why acts need to keep theirs refreshed and relevant. Signal has provided fans updates on his E.P.’s release and always ensures one is informed and happy. Giving some great images and nuggets of information: a guide on how it should be done and why so many artists are struggling to gain recognition (if they do not do the same as him). I shall end this section but wanted to nod to a young man who has that approach to music. It means everything and you can just tell it is not about the streaming figures and awards. Sure, those are part of it but the main objective is to get his personal and stunning songs out to the fans – making sure they hear them and understand where Signal is coming from. He does not write for the charts and record labels. Here is a pure and personal artist that wants to forge a career and mark himself as one of the biggest voices in British Hip-Hop. Because of this, the promotional campaigns and engaged strategy is coming from a very good place.
I have talked about freshness and how the best British albums of this year have been marked by a sense of purpose and originality. One cannot underestimate how important it is providing the public something new and unexpected. Signal’s E.P. is raw and essential. It brims with life and has sick and slick raps. It is a work that projects images and clear designs; words that remain in the mind and performances overflowing with ability and confidence. It is not a work that works by-numbers and follows anyone else. The best albums of this year – Loyle Carner and Dizzee Rascal among the leading pack – have that edge and attitude that elevates them above the (boring) mass. The determination and allure of the central voice mean every song engrains itself in the imagination and lasts for a long time. I am still spinning Raskit and Yesterday’s Gone. They are works that sound new and are hard to compare with anything out there. Among the indeterminate sludge and bulk of run-of-the-mill artists out there: that desire for something proper and decent obsesses my mind. I am pleased Signal has released his Progression EP and is making a stand. He is someone who gets where I am coming from and has such a sense of dynamism and attitude. I love his music and cannot wait to see how his stock rises. Here is a young man who has worked his way from the local clubs and is making strides in the capital. The only way music is going to progress and inspire the new generation is if we have a look at what is being put out – and whether we are seeing too many sound-alike acts and vague artists. I hope Signal gets a bigger reaction in the coming years because his music warrants incredible passion. he is putting the legwork in but there are countries and corners to be conquered. Right now, he is going a long way to ensure those plaudits come his way.
Let us consider, before coming to the E.P., those artists that put out an E.P. and are relatively new to music. This is not the first offering from Signal but it is his first ‘big’ work. His Make It Happen E.P. was out last year but I feel this is the E.P., now, that represents his true sound. I love Make It Happen but feel Progression EP is the young songwriter at his peak. In any case; he is fairly new to the blocks and it is always nervous and unsure putting that E.P. out. You are never sure how it will fit into the market and how it will rival your peers. I will combine two points and look at America vs. Britain when it comes to Hip-Hop and Rap. Okay, well…it seems there is a clear gulf, in terms of sound and quality, between British and American artists. In terms of the Hip-Hop/Rap coming from the U.S.; there is a lot more quality and durability, in my mind. Maybe it is the fact the artists are more hungry and angered – given the race riots and political divides there – or those genres are more established and better supported. I have name-checked a couple of British artists that are making sure our Hip-Hop scene is kept busy and alive. We are better at Grime than the U.S. and have a lot more agile and appealing examples – I am not sure whether Grime is that big in America. What strikes me about the two nations is how the mainstream best are so far ahead in America. The newer scene is a little closer but when you look at those established acts: it is America that is ahead of the pack and showing how it should be done. I am not sure the exact reason behind this but maybe it is as simple as talent and media support – the writers and music journalists giving proper affection and support to genres like Rap and Hip-Hop. I will come back to this more but, in a way, abandoned the E.P. debate I started. Progression EP is Signal’s second E.P. (I think) and shows he has made changes and grown in confidence. Signal has sharpened as a songwriter and bringing more compositional elements into his sound. The privation of quality in the music industry is worrying but we must champion and celebrate those artists like Signal – not only original and impassioned but able to improve and grow with every new release.
My last point will be about London and how, given his closeness to the capital, it seems like a natural stopping-off point for Signal. He has gigged a lot around Camden and other areas so it only seems natural he will spend more time here in the future. Whether you live close to London or not: it seems like the Mecca for anyone who wants to make a stab of music. Manchester is another essential base so, if one can get themselves to either; that goes a long way. I cannot understand why many overlook London and understand that is where music’s heartbeat is loudest. There are few that have the same talent and attitude as Signal: London seems ready-made and waiting. I am sure it is part of his design but, given his new-found attention and developments, maybe basing himself there would be a sage move? He has access to like-minded peers and so many great venues. He has a love for Basingstoke and will not forget where he came from. There is a definite need for the best Urban artists to stand up and tell it like it is. I have mentioned, and will do still, how Signal talks about the personal and, in a lot of cases, sexual – this might change on future E.P.s. He is at the stage where he is addressing youth and the daily life of a Rap/Hip-Hop artist. It is the sound of a cosmopolitan and worldly chap that has such curiosity and hunger. This cannot be satisfied and fully fed living outside of the capital. It is good he lives so close by but one can tell how much affection and connection Signal has for London. Maybe he will move himself there soon but it is interesting how artists change and grow when they get to London. There is that opportunity and breadth of people; the world at your feet and so many waiting ears. This is something Signal needs to consider because, I think, his music has that appeal and enormous potential.
Racing out the blocks is Progression. The E.P.’s title-track has bubbling beats and electronics. It has gorgeous backing sounds and urgency that leads to a fresh and bouncing vocal. Signal talks about performing in Camden and spending his days dreaming of bigger things – Wembley and getting those huge gigs. Looking back at 2016 – and the promises he was making and dreams he had – there is this renewed desire to make it big and be among the chasing pack. The “verbal grenade” is being thrown out there and the young songwriter is laying down his messages. Life is hard and it is a struggle getting your name out there. Signal is humble and modest but has that ambition at his heart. He recognises how he is mentioned in the back pages – a bit too mouthy or controversial at times – but it getting love from contemporaries like John Newman. This progression means he is going from the local press and getting talked-up by some of music’s hottest new artists. Little kids and players are trying to attack Signal and take his crown. He is not taking this and, above it all, promoting progression and common sense. Jay Picasso adds backing vocals and adds weight to a song that perfectly kick-starts the E.P.
After talking about not giving up and being determined: What Goes Around has a sharper and more attacking vibe. It seems to address a karmic vibe and those people who diss Signal. The man’s girl has been checking his (Signal’s) socials and liking photos. She has been respecting his rhymes and seems to be into him. Maybe the man in question has been slagging-off Signal and claiming he is a bit weak. There is a sense of battling a foe or someone who is not treating Signal with respect. Name-checking Carrie Fisher – showing this is one of the most-recent songs written – it is a track that has lush and busy production. There is so much going on and the man in question is chasing a dream. He is cutting back on costs and tightening his wallet. Starting with the “same team”; he has been working for nothing and preparing himself for the mainstream. This work ethic can determination will see the balance being redressed. It is a bold and confident attack from a young man who knows his time will come. What goes around, it seems, will come back around. That single-minded approach to success and triumph makes the song one of the standouts on the E.P. It is a club-ready anthem that many people can relate to – those who need to have the strength in their bones to know things will work out.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
Down, a previous release, is one of the finest works from Signal and one that drips with sweat. Playing a bit of Ken and Barbie – smoking weed in the penthouse – there is that sense of chase and success. Our man is pursuing the girl and keen for some side-boob action. He, with EClipse as the heroine, is documenting a single night where he is getting the girl into bed. The song casts away from the business of success and musical ambition and goes straight to the groin. It is another confident and energised song that crackles with tripping beats and an incredible lead vocal, Signal lays down his intentions and touches his body to the girl’s. EClipse adds sweetness but there is a raw and hungry attack from her performance. It seems they are evenly-matched and there is that inevitable coming together. Rather than present a crude and simplistic account of a one-night-stand; the hero teases and adds exposition and explanation. He is texting and sending cheeky messages; guiding her to his room and charming with that wit and confidence. Mixing great wordplay and memorable lines – Sega and Mighty Morphing Power Rangers; the man sticking his sword in her “chamber” – it shows Signal is an original and exciting lyricist. EClipse is not giving herself away that freely but definitely wants something to happen. It is a great clash of voices and personalities, one expects, ends with an inevitable coming together. Always slick, controlling and oozing charisma – the song has that blend of sexuality and tease. It is a very modern-sounding song – some processed vocals and club-ready production – and could easily slot into the mainstream. What separates it from the lesser example out there is the addictiveness of the song – and the talent of Signal. It weaves into the brain and one will sing the song long after it has ended.
PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
Something to Say offers another dimension and story. The man comes back to hopes and dreams. Studio fees and the BBC are mentioned. Signal, in five years, wants to me selling-out venues and making a go of things. He does not want to be chained to a desk and someone who cannot be confined and defined. A dope and epic performance from Signal – a song that gets right into the brain. It is fresh from the streets and shows there is no short-supply of ability and confidence in the artist. He knows where he wants to go and, with Picasso’s production and guidance, creates a song that swaggers and sway. It is one of the more hard-hitting and bold songs on the record. It has catchiness and captivation that means it is another standout. The testament of a songwriter who does not want to limit himself or play it modest. He has the ability and agility and wants people to know that. It is a song that brims with determination and a clear view. There are processed/strange vocals that add a deep-voiced allure to the song. It is a tough and ready song that flexes its muscles and drives the streets with speed.
Basic, bringing Chelsea Jade into the E.P., starts off with some calm and beauty. Signal comes to the microphone and it sees the hero casting off fake friends – a new mate needed and looking back on easier times. Back in the day, when it used to be simple and easy, Signal had that promise and hope. Weed used to grow in the garden and it seemed like life, at times, was hard. MCs moved from Reading and torched the man. Megadrive and Sega is back on the scene and we get a view of Signal’s life – and the people that came into the life. Illegal drugs and club nights are laid out; attacks and those trying to put Signal down. It is a song that challenges all foes and shows the king will not be put down. Chelsea Jade comes in and provides a relaxed and beautiful vocal – one that adds needed control and calm to proceedings. It is almost a two-hander between lovers and explanation where they both came from. Signal mentions his hometown and where he came from; how things have changed and the way life has changed over the years. He is in a better place but it seems there are plenty of challengers who want to take him on. Chelsea Jade looks at bitches around her and people who want to degrade her. There is a slight mystery to the song and whether Chelsea Jade and Signal are lovers taking on the world – or from two different sides of the tracks. A fascinating song that adds another dynamic to Progression EP.
Down, Part 2 brings Blizzard and EClipse together on the swansong. It is another interpretation of the song and provides fresh insight to the lyrics. Maybe it is the heroine bonding with another man and moving away from Signal – the same ideals and conquest but with a new man. An interesting take and song to end things on but it is good to see Signal give the reigns to others and ensure they bring the E.P. to its conclusion. Progression EP is a deep and challenging work but one everyone can appreciate. I hope, in time, Signal tackles issues around him and the affliction the U.K. – the same way Loyle Carner and Dizzee Rascal are doing. His latest E.P. addresses success and the way he has made his way from the basement. Songs look at successes and conquest – either in music or the bedroom – and show there is a need to be better and bigger. The hero knows what he wants and is out there trying to get it. Few can fault the quality and consistency throughout the work. The collaborators (and Jay Picasso) bring so many different qualities but it is Signal himself who defines the E.P. It is a stunning work from someone whose best years are still ahead. The lyrics and performances are slick and professional and the production ensures everything connects and hooks one in. A fantastic work that marks Signal out for big things.
I will end the review without revoking earlier points – as I have covered the songs quite heavily – and wanted to look at Signal’s future potential. He has gigs coming up but it seems like there is potential to get the music heard up and down the nation. People like Jay Picasso are in his corner and, with his tutelage end expertise, can get the young man heard right around the U.K. I have mentioned how the world is waiting for him: Progression EP can be taken to heart by audiences in other nations. I am sure there will be albums and future E.P.s but, right now, it is exciting seeing a fantastic artist make those first steps. Signal has been on the scene a bit but is making his finest and biggest tunes right now. I have loved investigating Progression EP and the sheer confidence one hears throughout. It does not repeat what is already out there but reminds one of the finest Rap out there. Signal is a performer who is always in control and able to weave original poetry throughout. He talks about childhood and computer games but can mix that with sexual conquest and the desire to rule the scene. His spits and slams are primal and he has the ability to weave and alter his voice in accordance with the lyrics. The production is polished but has that raw skin: meaning the music is not too professional-sounding but everything comes together perfectly. Collaborators like EClipse and Chelsea Jade add to the dynamic and ensure various songs have nuance and allure. It is good seeing Signal bring others to the party but he does not make it too busy and crowded. I have explained a lot earlier and shown what makes Signal such a great artist. He has the talent in his heart and I can see him going very far. Progression EP is a fantastic work from someone who will continue to strike and evolve. That incredible work-rate is what makes him such a fantastic and promising artist. If Signal remains on-point and focused; he can get himself into the international consciousness. He gets a lot of love from the local press but I can see him going further than that. Let’s hope worldwide sources feature Dan Amps and give him some love. When that happens; it means his music will resonate with a whole new world and let’s hope, when that does happen, he gets the stardom and attention…
PHOTO CREDIT: Steph Brown Photography
HE fully deserves.