A DJ since his early teens, Sheffield native Tom Bell – aka Toddla T, the nickname reflecting his youth – has promised much for no little length of time. His successful fusion of dancehall riddims and bouncy electro with guest raps both caustic and cautious comprises the foundations of a debut album proper that bristles with enthusiasm, energy and an obvious love for its influences. He might be born and bred in the Steel City, but Toddla’s musical preferences have their roots in far sunnier climes.
Key vocal collaborators Mr Versatile and Serocee, both accomplished emcees/deejays of a dancehall/reggae persuasion, are backed by some limelight-grabbing guests, including Tinchy Stryder, Roots Manuva and Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard. Also along for the ride are poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who leads a gently persuasive argument for inner-city youths to find a focus beyond their everyday struggle on Rebel, and every basshead’s best mate Hervé, whose contributions on Shake It mark the track out as one of Skany Skanky’s most immediately enjoyable offerings. It’s a certifiable booty-shaker with a big dumb grin plastered all over its mug.
Repeat listens reveal subtler highs, though – No Kip is a slurred-of-vocal ode to insomnia set to a light dubstep backdrop, closer Better is a sunny slice of optimism featuring drums from Arctic Monkey Matt Helders, and Butter Me Up bleeps and buzzes its way through a recital of just why a man can’t cash-flash his way into the affections of sole female vocalist Siobhan Gallagher. Singles Rice & Peas (formerly Fill Up Mi Portion) and Sound Tape Killin, meanwhile, are instant hits.
Toddla’s own vocals, while appealingly cheeky, add little to the overall mix – though Road Trip is an amusing insight into the working habits of the touring DJ, whose billing at indie clubs leaves attendees muddled to say the least. “Took me seven hours to get here… Everyone’s pretending to like black music… It’s all gone wrong.”
But while his guests dominate vocal proceedings, at no point does Toddla not stamp his own identity on Skanky Skanky. While it is the sum of its parts, the pieces the fresh-faced DJ has collected for assembly are universally strong, and the album never stalls in its progress. It’s an invigorating debut, auspicious and appetite-whetting. The boy might be a little wet behind the ears compared to certain on-record accomplices, but what’s filled them here is well worth your investigation. --Mike Diver
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