album review ~ 'the belfast yank' ~ bee mick see

To say Northern Ireland isn't really known for it's rap is like saying Israel and Palestine aren't really known for their friendly banter. It doesn't take a great deal to realise it's not in our history and we've never really had anyone particularly good at it. Adopted Belfastian Brendan Seamus has been on a one man mission to change that perception for many years now; whether it's on the frontline of sweaty venues with 'Bomb City 7', or as the hugely popular Bee Mick See, Seamus and his unique style has converted many a hip-hop charlatan onto full blown, expressive rap. The release of new album 'The Belfast Yank' has been a long time coming, but could he capitalise on the hype he's worked so hard to create? Encore couldn't wait to find out...

Proceed with caution. Bee Mick See's new record pulls no punches, as opening gambit 'Belfast Slang' proves beyond doubt. You know what's the most surprising though? Amongst the barrage of swearing and fast paced verses, there's an underlying charm you can't help but smile about. Whether it's in the uplifting 80's styled guitar which percolates through each verse, or the joyous sing along sensibilities in the chorus, 'Belfast Slang' will win you over, whether you're willing it to or not. You still wouldn't let your Grandparents hear it though. 

From here on in, the scene has been set and Bee Mick See begins to relax into the album. 'Awkward' see's the rapper opening up about a difficult start to life in Northern Ireland (where he moved from Portland, Oregon as a child ~ further explored in the awesome 'We Took A Dive', but we'll get to that later...), which includes the gem 'I ignored Shakespeare and learned how to rap'. 

Then comes 'Stress', a call to arms to the Western world to put down the X-Box controller and actually go outside. Again, whilst Seamus' lyrics at times verge on the extreme end of the honesty spectrum, there's an underlying feeling of good will attached here. So to in 'Music', but here there's a shimmer of something altogether more fluent. Somewhere between the gospel like instrumentation and the tracks quick witted flow gives this song a Mike Skinner-esque appeal. Seamus also delivers another piece of lyrical genius, (& possibly the best lyric on the entire album) as he admits 'I can't find God, so albums are bibles'. Amen brother!

'Alphabetic Blocks' then takes things into new territory, as the guitars, synths and saxophones (trumpets?) of tracks gone by are replaced by straight up dance. This is a track you can really move to and even those not strictly into the grime-laden end of hp-hop will be able to appreciate the genius epilogue which opens proceedings. "I listen to Bee Mick See more than I listen to my Ma'". Damn right you do, son. By this stage we're starting to see into the mind of the artist, and in 'Fear Is A Gift' we get a bigger insight than we perhaps expected. Wrapped within the double entendre's, we hear how Mick See really does 'Fear Death'. Albeit like a sexually transmitted disease. So yes, it's not quite Eminem singing about watching his friends die and how that spurred him onto greatness ~ but scratch beneath the surface and the sentiments remain the same.

Perhaps the only 'Rap ballad' on the record comes courtesy of 'Love', a song showcasing Seamus' handling of a shattering break-up. With a genius cameo courtesy of Yellowbridge's Ciara Donnelly (who's sounding wonderful throughout) it was always a likely candidate for single status and so it proved. Picking the pace straight back up again,  'We Took A Dive's singalong sensibilities are pure feelgood pop (ironic when you consider the lyrics). Another great collaboration, Paul Denver's handling of one of Bee Mick See's best chorus' is commendable. There's a certain 'Fresh Prince Of Bel Air' element at play here, and whilst 'We Took A Dive' isn't quite as catchy as Will Smith's masterpiece (what is?), you can still imagine this song dropping seamlessly into a set at the Limelight on a Saturday night.

Penultimate track 'Death' once again see's Bee Mick See deal with personal, often dark issues, through an upbeat backing track. As the synths return, so to does the violins, in a flurry of verses about the absurdness of life and regret. It's a real grower, as Roysta's harsh vocal style acclimatizes with each listen. An album as triumphant as this deserved a big finisher, and in 'Natural Scents' producer Rocky O'Reilly's trademark sheen is given the full spotlight. A truly engaging listen, 'Natural Scent' seems to capture everything the rapper stands for in one four minute burst; namely, the pitfalls of everyday capitalism, society's emphasis on all things fake and humanities downright greed in the modern age. It's slick, smart and has a powerful message.

Throughout 'The Belfast Yank' the pendulum seems to swing between cocksure-confidence and a surprising fragility. When Bee Mick See is at his best, it's the latter which continues to resonate long after you've finished listening. Even if some questions are left unanswered... Is Bee Mick See an alter ego?

Does it matter? 

Taylor Johnson
Catch Bee Mick See live at the official album launch in 'The Bar With No Name'

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