Spoken-word in music can sometimes inspire a certain wariness in listeners. Too often it conjures up images of self-indulgent, turtle-necked tools in coffee shops across the planet expounding at great lengths about bourgeois first-world problems to the already converted few. Thankfully London artist George Mpanga – better known as George The Poet – is could not be further from one of said tools.
With a couple of singles and collaborations under his belt, his latest EP The Chicken & The Egg deftly explores something crucial, but all too often lacking from modern music: An intriguing narrative well told. Over its seven tracks, The Chicken & The Egg sees the 23-year-old George deal with the myriad of issues that arise around the concept of becoming a parent before you’re ready. His dulcet, percussive flow is as keenly observant as it is disarmingly introspective as he provides a powerful look at a situation that few would ever wish to face.
Like pretty much all of the EP, opener If The Shoe Fits is probably most effective due to the sparseness of its backing track. With little more than a drum machine and a blooming, ambient guitar line, it puts the focus squarely on George’s impressively acrobatic lyrics with little distraction. Toothbrush/The Force draws the comparison of leaving the titular oral-hygiene device at a significant other’s house with the tipping point of commitment and the “force” with which something so small can attach you to a situation.
It’s hard to peg where The Chicken & The Egg sits stylistically in the context of modern music. The closest possible comparison might be the staggered flow and unique English-ness of Mike Skinner’s The Streets project but this being said, George still stands entirely on his own in today’s landscape. It’s refreshing to hear a voice as unique as Mpanga’s filling the void of immediacy and grit Skinner left with his 2012 retirement and while George’s EP is clearly informed by generations of rappers before him, like Mike, there’s honestly no one like him around today. And that’s part of what makes George The Poet so special.
Baby Mother is a starkly dramatic contemplation of the nuances of using birth control both in and out of a monogamous relationship and the heartbreaking account of a miscarriage heard on Accidents adds another layer of complexity to the EP’s arc. Similarly, Baby Father weighs the impacts of “becoming an absent dad or a shit father” when all any 23-year-old protagonist wants to do is watch porn and play Call of Duty. Conceptually, George manages to take on subject matter that isn’t usually explored in the confines of contemporary music. He does so not only with some deep soul-searching throughout, but his gift for jaw-dropping and dexterous lyricism makes these unenviable facts of life all the more beguiling. The closing pair of tracks – Kids and Roast Chicken – is where the gravity of the story really hits home and without spoiling the story, find a place of rest for the troubles with which George grapples throughout.
There really hasn’t been a release like The Chicken & The Egg for years now. It’s certainly not up everyone’s alley, but hopefully it will dispel the notion that the current revivalist wave of spoken-word artists is merely a pack of pretentious hipsters who are too “ironic” to follow the rhythm of a beat. For an artist as young as George to be giving voice to a story like this (which alters the course of thousands of lives a year) is a bold statement, but thankfully it pays off with The Chicken & The Egg standing up as one of the most unique and powerful releases of the pointy end of 2014.