With his return to music in 2016, rapper and activist Lowkey confirmed that the fire lit on 2009’s Dear Listener and 2011’s Soundtrack to the Struggle, continued to burn. A London native of Iraqi descent, his various social and politically engaged projects have brought natural interruptions to the continuity of his music career, but with each emphatic return he has reminded the rap world of his lyrical prowess and conviction. New single The Return of Lowkey is another statement of intent from the MC and here are five takeaways from it. Catch Lowkey live at Band on the Wall on 14th April 2019.
A period of absence can go two ways. Listeners can reflect on an artist’s work, recognise its depth and merit and eagerly anticipate their return or they can gradually turn their attention to the work of other active artists. The longer the absence, the more noteworthy the return, but the less immediate the memory; it’s a tricky balance!
Lowkey’s return has proven that the demand has never dwindled. The Return of Lowkey is bookended by samples from two Akala interviews: the first seeing the MC field questions about when Lowkey might return with new music back in 2016 and the second hearing him express his feelings about the content of Lowkey’s music and how it has prevailed without the backing of major labels.
Lowkey’s first single in 2016 was widely praised and The Return of Lowkey has also racked up hefty streaming figures. Artists like Lowkey don’t emerge every day and listeners appreciate that, mindful of how his time spent away from music informs the music he produces upon his return. So they wait patiently, expecting big things with every new track.
Lowkey has been gravely overlooked in the Pudding’s Index of the largest vocabularies in Hip-Hop, but one has to think that were his lyrics analysed, he’d be right at the top. Interestingly in a track where his three verses and chorus (counted once) amount to more than 1,000 words, he doesn’t use a single swear word. High lyrical standards from one of the strongest in the game.
Like his aforementioned contemporary Akala, Lowkey is studious and allows his knowledge of political history and culture to inform his lyrics. His recent participation in a debate held at the Oxford Union saw him using that knowledge in a non-musical setting, first deconstructing the premise of the debate, before making informed points to state his claim.
Lyrics like ‘Not a marketing dream, heart’s in the Middle East’ and ‘I was blackballed then, cause I spoke about war / They want me closed down, but I spoke out more’ see Lowkey reflecting on the impact of his political engagement and heritage on his life and music career, but it’s clear from the rhymes he spits throughout the track that those outside influences are never going to dull his sharpness.
The Gatwick Airport drone incident occurred just one month before The Return of Lowkey dropped, and Offset’s onstage apology to Cardi B just a few days before that, but both are cleverly referenced in Lowkey’s lyrics. From pen to paper, recording studio to streaming service, the track can’t have come together in longer than a month! Lowkey certainly isn’t stockpiling.
As the track’s chorus suggests, the album is next. Soundtrack to the Struggle 2 drops in early April and Lowkey has recently teased another new single on social media.