Friday 31 March 2023

Album Review: Outside The Box by T.H.E.M.


Outside The Box




Outside the Box is the long awaited and highly anticipated debut album from Burnley crew T.H.E.M. As I noted back in December 2022 when I reviewed the digital EP release ‘From Beyond’, this album was originally going to be a double album but, constraints led the guys to scale things back to a single album with From Beyond being made up of those tracks not to make the album.

Fast forward to now and the album release is immanent and let’s not keep you hanging so, I’m not gonna waffle here and take you straight into what T.H.E.M aka Seek The Northerner, Karlow, Lomax and Bruva Smokes, have to offer us with Outside the box…


The album kicks off in style with the upbeat, Seek the Northerner produced, Monsters. Drums, bass, keys, horns and some deft cuts from DJ Woody, all combine to give the kinda head nod, body moving Hip Hop sound you can’t help but, move to. This one see’s the guys showing exactly what they are all about with the kinda lyrical displays that simply takes your breath away and sets up the tone of the album perfectly. Next up is Running which is produced by Lomax and features Wordsmiff Flip. With drums pounding, bass and strings melt into the vibe to keep your head nodding. Here the struggles and strains of life combine as the guys look at how things can cause you to lose touch with reality and who you are, your true self. But you can’t escape that side of you, try as you might, you can run as far as your legs will take you but, you will never outrun yourself, you are always there, in some way, shape and form, ready for the day you are ready to be your true self once more.

The pounding of drums, piano and cymbals draw you into Below Zero, produced by Bruva Smokes. Fear is the idea that immediately trust into your awareness and there is a brief thought in your mind that questions what’s coming. At first you feel you’re being drawn into some dark and depraved nightmare situation where the guys describe how their actions install fear into those who inhabit the darkness but, the more you listen, the more you realise it is all just a play on words because their words are the weapons and the only ones who need to fear anything are those who step up and think they are better that T.H.E.M. You can leave the darkness behind as drums and horns, courtesy of production from Seek, pour light on things with a huge upbeat vibe that switches up the adrenaline levels all the way on The Sting. The guys are joined by UK Hip Hop legend, Blade for a track that hits like you’re running butt naked through a field of stinging nettles. Every line, simile, metaphor hits multiple times on different levels, while the stories from back in the day; talk of inspirations and the more personal notes leave you wondering which way to turn, while the stings never relent. There is almost too much try and pick apart here so just listen and enjoy this display of the art of rap. Million Degrees is next, produced by Lomax, this one is a heavy drum pounding, button pushing sound with a dash of razor-edged cuts, all of which has a nerve tweaking edge at times, especially with the high-pitched violin sound. It all seems to seep into the very core of your being, making you vibrate from the inside out. The guys raise the temperature on this one for the streets. Dropping lines that are so hot they blow every thermometer you can try and use to measure the heat this one is pumping out. This one is so hot it might just melt you’re mind from the inside out…

Drums and a mariachi guitar, with good dash of cuts, are the musical foundation for Lost Cause, giving you this upbeat sound from Seek that is so infectious, I dare you not to nod your head to this. T.H.E.M are joined by the legendary figure of Chester P to examine just what is the definition of a lost cause. Lots of food for thought here as the energy and the words flood your mind to the brim, making you wonder what a lost cause might be as you look around. There is even a faint thought that filters in making you wonder if there is anything you do that might be considered a lost cause. Loop Da Loop is up next, produced by Karlow, has a pounding beat over some chilled guitars, with some etheric vocals sounds and cuts all mixed in giving this a head nod vibe with a thoughtful edge. This one brought many things to mind as I listened from a basis of what goes around comes around, to the battle many of us have within our own minds and even battling the system but, none of these seemed to stick and then I wondered “Is that what the guys were aiming at here”, getting you to loop da loop in your own mind by going round and round never quite certain of the real focus? The album’s title track is up next, Outside The Box is produced by Seek and features AMOS. With horns, bass and drums, this one has cracking funk vibe to it. Here, it’s all about spinning intricate lyrical lines around and about things that are not just outside the box but, there are some you might be so far outside the box as to be too much to touch. This one has your mind spinning and doing back flips as you nod and move along to the sound, and by the end of this you’ll be thinking “Who needs a box anyway” this is Hip Hop.

Moving to the penultimate track, Milltown Flex, it’s produced by Lomax and has this big sound of strings, drums and bass, which gives this one a Hip Hop soundtrack vibe. It’s time for the guys to get everyone up on their feet as they each demonstrate the pure quality of their lyricism, proving that they are not just at the top of their game but, that there is always another level to strive to reach. Once you gotta rep, it’s all about keeping it and continually honing those skills and keeping yourselves sharp and authentic. The track also ends with some slick cuts from DJ Musicarl, who also provides cuts for all except the opening track of the album. The final track of the album is What We Do! Production comes from Sidefx and it features Ken Masters alongside T.H.E.M. There is this orchestral backing to the drum beat that gives this an extra dimension as the piano element seems to echo all around you. There will be no encore here as this is a supreme display of how to end an album as everyone gives a solid lyrical display of their rap skills, which all says one thing loud and clear, this is Hip Hop and this is What We Do!


I’m not sure exactly where to start here but, it’s not often that an album comes along that is not only a breath of fresh air but, also completely takes your breath away, Outside The Box does exactly that and more. There is an element here that makes you think that even if you have heard the EP, listened to the live segment and sofa chat on 05:21, that nothing can really prepare you for this album. I mean, what T.H.E.M. have done here is to embody the essence of real Hip Hop but, with their own stamp well and truly on it.

Outside The Box has everything I love about that real Hip Hop vibe. From start to finish it grabs your attention and holds non-stop, with ten tracks that are all three minutes plus, which really gives you time to get into the tracks and to properly feel them. I’m not saying that sub-three minute tracks don’t deliver but, they do always leave me wanting more and that is one thing you are not gonna get with this album, except maybe once it ends that is…

It really is difficult to fully explain what is so good about this album but, I’ll try and at least give you an insight. Musically the production is exactly what you would want from a Hip Hop album. Every track has the kinda vibe that makes your body wanna move. There is energy here that doesn’t let up across the entire album. Seek The Northerner, Karlow, Lomax and Bruva Smokes all show they have the skills to produce cracking instrumentals as well as the kind of lyrical skills that so many wish they had. These guys might all have their own unique styles and sound but, they also completely complement each other as well, which in a crew like this, is invaluable.

It is also worth noting their careful choice of guests for the album all of whom, fit exactly into place on the album adding extra depth and another layer of polish to an already finely polished album. It’s not just the legendary guests that might peak your interest here. There is also a legendary figure behind the scenes too as No Sleep Nigel, who has been the engineer behind many classic UK Hip Hop tracks over the years,  handles the mixing and mastering of the album, what more could you want right…

What you do realise, by the end of the album, is that collectively and individually, these four guys have the talent and the passion to deliver some of the most intelligent and exciting underground Hip Hop music around today. For me, T.H.E.M. have well and truly nailed what it is to be unique and authentic but, still have the foundation of what they do rooted in what true Hip Hop is, with banging beats and vocals that can easily tackle emotive personal stories, right through to those just for the street or those to rock any party.

Outside The Box lifts that underground Hip Hop sound out of the box and plants it where it needs to be, in a place where anything and everything is possible, and nothing is impossible. This is one you just should not miss and yeah, it really is that good so, nuff said…

My humble thanks to Seek The Northerner for sending this my way and to the whole crew for having the faith in my writing.

The album is released tomorrow,1st April, through Northentic Records and be sure to check the official album launch party on Sunday 21st May at the Camden Club, London. It’s gonna be some night, hosted by the one and only Blade and with T.H.E.M. and whole host of guests from 4:30pm to midnight, check the link below for tickets.

Time for me to be outta here,

See ya,



T.H.E.M. on Bandcamp Here:

Northentic Records on Bandcamp Here:

Album Launch Party ticket link Here:

 Northentic Records YouTube Channel:


Friday 3 March 2023

EP Review: Ambivalence by Shabbz






Shabbz is a name you may not be familiar with, hailing from Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, the rapper began his musical journey back in 2020. Born in London, he moved to Irelend while still a child and has lived there for the last Twenty years or so now. Irish by nationality, he spent the most formative years of his life, through his teenage years into adulthood in Ireland. It was 2020’s fan favourite King of the South gave him a cult following on the grime scene and has helped him to forge a solid foundation for grime and rap in southern Ireland.

The press release notes “With an overriding belief in the importance of artistic integrity, Shabbz favours a quality control approach to music. Instead of pumping out frequent, algorithm-based releases, he instead prefers to deliver works of art; celebrating the importance of each brush stroke through an avante-garde final painting.

Three years later, Shabbz is back with his latest project “Ambivalence” - a project that promises to elevate the Southern Ireland rap scene and show many of Tipperary’s residents that a career in rap is indeed possible.”

Ambivalence is five tracks deep and with what I’ve noted about his importance to create quality, promises a lot, so let’s get into it…

Kicking of with Sticks & Stones (Prod. By Vincemania), Keys and a melodic drumbeat create a deep vibe over which you have that classic grime high-speed cymbal sound. The message here seems to be all about what it is being an upcoming artist within an urban music scene. The struggles of trying to make it as a rap artist, looked as no way to make a real living. Not just that but, there are the outside pressures of family looking on you to start a family or the people on the streets trying to draw you into another life altogether. The message here is to be you, create your dreams and build towards them and stay on that path no matter what. The melodic drums continue, mixed this time with organ notes and the cymbal notes. State of Mind (Prod. By Ecee) is focusing on mental health and the struggles that so many go through as they wrestle with their mixed emotions around a person or situation, even to thoughts of suicide. The soulful vocals of Becky McNeice, on the chorus, act as the Yang (the light) to the Yin or dark side of Shabbz vocals, as she builds the positive focus of someone looking to free themselves from the pain and suffering in the mind.

Becky McNeice appears, once more on Tha Stars (Prod. By Jan.MP3), which has a lighter vibe with drums, guitars and synth notes. The cymbal notes fade more into the background here creating a more uplifting vibe. Shabbz speaks on the love of his life with Becky’s chorus being the words of that person floating through his awareness as he contemplates all the reasons why he loves her so deeply. Drums, horns and a ticking (which sounds like a metronome) combine for a laid back vibe which has more of a Hip Hop vibe to it. 085 (Prod. By Frederick James) looks at, what is almost the flipside of Tha Stars, here its all about chasing someone special and how that often means that you can get yourself into some tricky situations by texting the wrong person and such like. This is just one of those tough situations you might find yourself in on the way to finding that true love.

The last track is Too Late (Prod. By Axxeum) which features Slickbullet. This is a far more heavy bass trap sound which vibrates the speakers big time. Shabbz drops one which is all about that bravado vibe as he deals with those trying to be a part of what he’s built but, it’s just too late for that, the moment has passed, and he is now on the next stage of his journey…

What is immediately noticeable here is that, although he moved to Ireland while young, Shabbz has retained that London accent and it is immediately noticeable when you listen to his work. This takes nothing away from what this release achieves and that air of quality over quantity is very noticeable here too. Regardless of your own personal tastes in music, if you look past that you get this feeling that the quality of the release is crafted with the careful attention to detail.

What Shabbz gives us is five tracks that display differing influences and a wealth of emotional content and subject matter. The overall vibe bends more to a modern sounding rap vibe that draws on grime, trap and a dash of Hip Hop. Now, I might not be a fan of the more modern sound but, you have to give credit where it’s due and I can’t fault Shabbz on his lyrical content and delivery. He definitely has the skills to see his career take him as far as he is willing to go. Once again that attention to detail comes through in his writing and in the flow of how each track is delivered.

These five tracks are a pretty solid foundation which see him speaking on the struggles of an emerging artist, mental health Love and just a sprinkling of ‘just for the hell of it’ style and packing this all into five tracks is no mean feat either. The production really polishes the quality of the whole thing here and really creates the perfect audible backdrop for each track, helping to put you in the right mood to vibe perfectly with each. I have to say that I am not familiar with these producers but, completely acknowledge the quality of their production through out.

The appearance of the guest artists Becky McNeice and Slickbullet really gives that extra depth to the tracks they feature on. Again, you might not be familiar with their names but, they ones to watch for as well.

It is good to hear emerging artists from Ireland, such as Shabbz, as I feel that we don’t hear enough from Irish rap artists. This does show that underground Irish music scene is in good hands. So, if you really vibe with that more modern rap sound then you’ll definitely like what Shabbz is doing. I would also advise anyone who enjoys good rap music to check Shabbz for themselves and decide what they think, because it’s the only way you are really gonna know by checking the music yourself. One thing is for sure, you will definitely be hearing the name Shabbz in the future…

Ambivalence drops today, 3rd March, on all good streaming platforms.

On that note,

I’m out, see ya.



Check here for all the streaming links:

Shabbz on Instagram:

Shabbz on YouTube:


State Of Mind ft Becky McNeice