Jack Flash & Wizard - Progression (Dr Flanagan Music)

Jack Flash & Wizard surface from the underground with a record brimming with ideas.

Released Mar 5th, 2012 via Dr Flanagan Music / By Matthew Bayfield
Jack Flash & Wizard - Progression (Dr Flanagan Music) There's an entertaining divide currently splintering fans of UK hip-hop. Many dedicated "heads" complain that true UK emcees don't get the coverage they deserve, particularly whilst the Babylonian and soullessly commercial tracks of people like Tinie Tempah and Chipmunk ride high at the top of the charts garnering their owners both recognition and financial opportunities the more artistically motivated lyricist will (most probably) never see. However, when a more underground bred emcee does manage to get a foot in the door with the mainstream, they are regularly chastised for selling out or going pop (see Professor Green, Wretch 32, Roll Deep and others for examples) it's a delicate tightrope to walk, and, with the big money companies obviously keen to protect their investments in artists, you can generally see where they've been made to fit a mould they perhaps were never intended for. Huddersfield emcee Jack Flash and his production partner Wizard, however, seem to have developed a formula to help dodge this common creative blight. The self release. Although this can lead to a releases lacking in promotional weight or glossy studio sheen you can at least be sure of the authenticity of the content. It would appear for Progression however the Flash & Wizard have tackled all elements.

Album opener ‘The Fire’ perfectly sums up the focus and drive this record is shot through with, and sonically is a great representation of the sound much of the album tends to take. For anybody familiar with Flash already via his Union Jack Album it may also come as something of a shock, leaving behind the more boom-bap inflected sample heavy sound, ‘The Fire’ is a thoroughly contemporary track, replete with ticking hi-hats and the thick, rich synth sounds more common to a Joker produced track than old school hip-hop. It’s testament to Flash’ versatility as an emcee that he sounds as natural on this as anything he has put his name to. The momentum gained on this opener is carried straight into ‘Steamrolling’, a definite album highlight. Again Flash shows an extremely nimble flow and offers a more aggressive attitude not as prevalent on previous work. The sheer confidence of the track is infectious, and backed with the exceptionally crisp Wizard production would be a prime cut to aim at more commercially minded radio stations.

Another key strength of Progression is variety. In the production department, which touches on nearly all aspects of hip-hop, there is the dirty south esque 808 & bass weighted stylings of tracks such as‘Law Of The Jungle’ through the soulful, sample laden ‘Met You Before’ to the substantially more left field construction of posse cuts like ’Snooze Button’ which features fellow MC’s of distinguished workmanship Sonnyjim, Genesis Elijah & Stig Of The Dump, bringing the full force of their collective frustrations to a skittish, almost Desi influenced beat built on tightly plucked strings and high pitched synths. The common pitfall with any album which reaches for too many sounds at once is that the project regularly comes off with a lack of cohesion, or in a slightly more cynical assessment, like it is trying to appeal to too many demographics at once (a case in point being Professor Green’s scattershot recent release) so it is a great credit to Flash & Wizard that, although covering a lot of ground sonically, the sequencing and context of the tracks as a whole make Progression feel more like the pair experimenting with a genuine enthusiasm to find the title of their album, rather than to tick some statistically researched boxes on an A&R departments clipboard.

Lyrically & conceptually the album shows great scope too, from the dense wordplay of 'Four Letter F Word' to the brutally honest, and alarmingly accurate themes of 'Go Back', where Flash dissects a date with an old flame and contemplates whether it would be worth going back to said Ex's house for one more night. It's a truly fascinating track and is guaranteed to ring alarm bells with any listener who has ever have attempted to reconnect with an old partner, and galvanises Flash with a genuine "everyman" appeal.

It's this subtly and nuance that truly sets Jack Flash apart from many of his peers and contemporaries, as well as the aforementioned track there is also 'Tomorrow' which, at the time of writing is probably the standout piece of the album. Against a backing of sparse wooden percussion, strummed acoustic guitar and rich sub thumps Flash provides a drinking anthem with a distinct twist. Whereas most latter day pop stars and emcees simply round up another hashed out, substandard dubstep or europop beat by a greedy handed producer of the David Guetta/Chase & Status ilk, then drivel haphazard lyrics plugging brand names and how much money they can spend (largely to a consumerist audience too young to buy booze or get in the eponymous "club" of said single) Flash & Wizard have opted to compose a less euphoric, woozily down tempo track. Whilst happily documenting the British tradition of getting absolutely smashed, the track also infers upon the self destructive, disassociate element of said British past time. It's a unique spin on a genre that has been nearly as oversaturated as the liver of Richard Burton and, if the duo can keep producing tracks of this and the rest of the albums quality, hopefully will mean this is only the start of their artistic progression.