Labrinth - Electronic Earth - Album Review
Timothy McKenzie (born 1st April 1989), Hackney London), better known by his stage name Labrinth, is an English singer-songwriter and record producer. McKenzie is signed to Simon Cowell’s label Syco, becoming the first non-talent show signing in six years. Initially, he was tipped to work as a producer, but Cowell signed him as a solo act.
Labrinth made his debut appearance on the UK Singles Chart in March 2010, when his collaboration with British rapper Tinie Tempah ‘Pass Out’, reached number one. His first solo single ‘Let the Sun Shine’ was released in September 2010, reaching number three in the same chart. His debut album Electronic Earth was released on 2nd April 2012, having been preceded by the singles ‘Earthquake’ featuring Tinie Tempah and ‘Last Time’, which peaked at number two and number four respectively.
McKenzie attended Stoke Newington School and became interested in a musical career during his school years. He comes from a musical family consisting of nine siblings, and grew up at home surrounded almost exclusively by the sound of American gospel music. His brother, Mac.1 is also a producer, and introduced McKenzie to the art of creating music in his studio at the age of 15. Labrinth initially started his career by producing the track ‘Dead End’ for British recording artist Master Shortie from the album ‘A.D.H.D.’ (2009). The track generated interest in McKenzie as a producer and songwriter, entailing Guy Moot of EMI Music Publishing to offer the artist a publishing deal.
On 28th February 2010, McKenzie appeared as an uncredited guest artist on British rapper Tinie Tempah’s debut single, ‘Pass Out’, having also produced and co-written the track. The single debuted at number one on the UK Singles Chart, number seventy in Australia and number six on the Irish Singles Chart. Having spent two weeks at the summit in the United Kingdom, ‘Pass Out’ was awarded ‘Best British Single’ at the 2011 BRIT Awards and ‘Best Contemporary Song’ at the 2011 Ivor Novello Awards, also achieving platinum certification from the British Phonographic Industry for surpassing sales of 600,000 copies.
Several months later saw the two artists collaborate for a second time with the release of Tempah’s second single, ‘Frisky’ (again) co-written and produced by McKenzie. The single debuted at number two in the United Kingdom, beaten only by the charity single ‘Shout’ featuring Dizzee Rascal and James Corden. The track saw chart success in Scotland, where it became the duo’s second consecutive number-one single, also peaking at number three in Ireland.
Throughout 2010, McKenzie continued writing material for a number of high- profile artists, including Professor Green for the track ‘Oh My God’ (Alive Till I’m Dead), Ola Svensson for the track ‘Let It Hit You’ (Ola) and Loick Essien for ‘Love Drunk’ (Identity).
Following chart success as a writer and producer, Labrinth was approached in June 2010 and signed to Simon Cowell’s record label, Syco. The signing marked a milestone for the label, with McKenzie becoming the first signing in six years to have not arisen from one of Cowell’s reality shows. At the time of being signed to the label, McKenzie said in an interview (and I quote) ‘This is a crucial moment in my career, I’ve always been an ambitious and driven person and Simon has given me a bigger playing field.’ Labrinth released his debut single ‘Let the Sun Shine’ on 27th September 2010 in the United Kingdom. The track debuted at number three in the UK, also reaching number thirty-two in Ireland. January 3rd 2011 saw the artist appear as a featured, for a third time, credited to British rapper Devlin’s single ‘Let It Go’, which saw limited chart success, peaking at number fifty-nine in the UK. There was also a remake of NWA’s ‘Express Yourself’ from their album Straight Outta Compton’ (1988).
Whilst beginning work on his debut studio album in early 2011, Labrinth assisted several artists as a producer, such as Yasmin, and the single ‘Finish Line’ and Ms.Dynamite and her comeback single ‘Neva Soft’. It was revealed in September 2011 that Labrinth appeared as one of many artists assembled by Take That member Gary Barlow, which included Chipmunk, Wretch 32, Mz.Bratt, Dot Rotten, Rizzle Kicks, Ed Sheeran, Ms.Dynamite and Tulisa Contostavlos. The single, which was performed both at Children in Need 2011 and Children in Need Rocks Manchester on 17th November 2011, debuted at number twenty-four on the UK Singles Chart.
Labrinth released his second single, ‘Earthquake’ on 23rd October 2011, featuring long-term collaborator Tinie Tempah. The single debuted at number two on the UK chart with first week sales of 115,530 copies. The single became the second highest selling number two single behind X Factor winners Little Mix and their cover of Damien Rice’s ‘Cannonball’. The track also saw international chart success, peaking at number twelve in Ireland, number five in New Zealand and number twenty-one in Australia; achieving gold certification from the Australian Recording Industry Association and platinum certification from the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand.
In December 2011, Labrinth confirmed the release date of his debut studio album, Electronic Earth, which having originally been released on the 12th March 2012, was pushed back until April 2nd 2012. The album was preceded by a third single, ‘Last Time’, which was released on March 18th 2012 as a four-track digital EP alongside remixes from Knife Party and Gareth Emery.
On May 23rd 2012, Labrinth performed at the Cheltenham racecourse to celebrate the occasion of the Olympic torch coming through Cheltenham. There was no entry fee and there was a huge turnout.
In addition to McKenzie’s signing to Simon Cowell’s record label Syco, he also made a deal to create his own imprint label with Syco, which he named Odd Child Recordings. The record label title comes from its purpose; to locate and nurture young and upcoming artists. It was revealed on 5th July 2011 that Odd Child made its first signing with singer Etta Bond. Currently writing material for her debut release, Bond is working with producer DaVinChe; having already released the demo singles ‘Ask Me to Stay’ and ‘Come Over’. Bond also made an appearance on British rapper Wretch 32’s second studio album, ‘Black and White’, on the track ‘Forgiveness’, which was released on December 11th 2011 as a single.
Electronic Earth is the debut studio album by English electronic musician Labrinth. Recorded and produced by Labrinth and manager Marc ‘Da Digglar’ Williams at Milmark Studios in London. Syco Music released Electronic Earth officially on the 2nd April 2012. The album was largely self-produced by Labrinth, and was recorded over the period of two years. The album features guest stints from Tinie Tempah and Emeli Sandé, and the deluxe edition includes appearances by Busta Rhymes, Kano, Wretch 32, Devlin and Tinchy Stryder, as well as remixes by Joey Negro, the Wideboys, Knife Party and R3Hab.
The first song on this debut album is a track called ‘Climb on Board’. From its first pronunciation of vocoder speech, you know you are on a musical journey. You have a standard R&B/Urban backdrop, but like the music genres of jungle, dub-step and grime, there is pure technical innovation on this track. The sonic key changes in this song, is what makes it stand out above anything else out there in the British R+B genre. I could write a whole thesis on this track, and it still would not be enough for the technical innovation and skill that is incorporated in this track. Like Soul 2 Soul’s ‘Fairplay’ (1988) and So Solid Crew’s ‘21 Seconds’ (2001), what we are listening to here is very historic in Black British music.
Next track ‘Earthquake’ (Featuring Tinie Tempah) just continues this innovation, which just blows the first track’s technical innovation skill, completely out of the water. My God! Did he just mention the word ‘Buckingham Palace’ on this track? How many R+B groups or Artists do you know who would be even brave enough to even mention the word? Labrinth maybe using a black American music genre, but he is spinning-in his own British identity on this track, which of course makes it British R+B. I cannot stress enough how important this is for artists to adopt a British identity in British Urban Music. Audiences recognise these factors all over the world, and the genres of Black British Urban Music are respected all over the world. It has been a long journey for Black British Artists adopting their own British identity, and not just being fed what America spoon-feeds the artist in these music genres. This is just as valid, as the Spice Girls and Brit-Pop were in 1997. Labrinth knows with ‘Earthquake’ that he is representing a movement, he as the pied-piper, which artists can follow, by using their own technical innovation; to have a generation of music artists who are not just good at what they do, but who are also innovative in it. By having Tinie Tempah on the track and the track being produced by Labrinth, of course you were going to have an Earthquake with this innovative track.
The next track ‘Last Time’ has the word ‘Futuristic’ written all through it. The amazing thing about the track is that Labrinth knows he is making history with the track; just by the way it is recorded. It is Labrinth skills as a producer that is fully on display here.
On the track ‘Treatment’ with its pulsating 1980’s ‘Yazoo’ drum patterns, the song has gripped you from the offset. On top of this, Labrinth adds a rock dynamic, which sounds like REAL pulsating guitars and drums. But wait a minute…Is this still R&B? Or is it a lot more? The genius of Labrinth is that he is breaking the rules of the genre, and Godamn, do you not totally love im for it.
The song ‘Express Yourself’ is a cover of The Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s song from 1971. Labrinth uses the version from NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Album from 1988. It is pretty obvious why Labrinth is covering this track. Like Kanye West, Labrinth creates music art outside of the boundaries of British R+B AND Hip-Hop, and knows he is being judged by what he does. The artistry of ‘KEEPIN IT REAL!’ means you do not necessary define the genres of music. The same genres of music, which have constantly stayed the same in the United Kingdom, for over 15 years. He damn well knows he is making history, just by covering this track, and he is sending out a message to the next generation. In other words, the next generation must not just create great music of these specific genres; they must also be innovative in these music genres, breaking the traditional rules and boundaries of these music genres. This is the 21st Century after all. I can already see the Brother going into politics someday. He mentions he is not like an X Factor contestant (methinks he is sending out a message to Mr Simon Cowell here) or makes the papers like JLS. In other words, Labrinth is not one to follow the Celebrity trail and be sucked into all its trappings. The Man is his own artist, dictating his own music heartbeat. God bless his cotton socks. With this track lyrically, he is an artist of the moment, describing things, which are on the cultural topic of conversation.
Next track ‘Let the Sun Shine’ (which was Labrinth Debut single), Labrinth does sound a bit like Taio Cruz. Labyrinth’s vocals are smooth like cream over fresh strawberries. Man! you can really feel the sun (and heat dictated by the keyboards electronica) on this track.
‘Beneath Your Beautiful’ featuring Emeli Sandré is the first slowed downed track of this album. Labrinth starts singing the track, quite passionately (but softly), and then rhythmic beats come in with Emeli Sandré’s vocals, where they both sing a duet. To be honest, Labyrinth’s vocals do seem a bit overpowered over Emeli’s more softly passionate vocals. In the end though, this track is a great unison of two Brilliant Artists.
Next track ‘Sundown’ is a passionate and (explicit) account of Labrinth getting down with his girlz, right down to sundown. Wow! The electronic heat is rising and the mercury in this thermometer could burst due to this track. Labrinth (in the chorus of this track) uses a reference of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ (1970). The interpretation that Labrinth uses is taken from Janet Jackson’s ‘Got Till its Gone’ from her ‘The Velvet Rope’ album (1997).
The track ‘Sweet Riot’ is not about creating (or being involved) in a street riot in the community. It’s about the sweet riot of music innovation. Labyrinth’s lyrical HG. Wells, George Orwell’s ‘1984’ subplot in this song, is very impressive.
Last track on the album is a track called ‘Vultures’. You are not sure if Labrinth is referring to vultures as critics of the industry or fans of Labrinth’s music genre. Either way, it does not matter who the vultures are, because by the end of this album you realise that you have been on an incredible music odyssey, and this track is a fitting end to a very incredible and very moving debut album.
Speaking to Blues & Soul in January 2012, Labrinth stated (and I quote) ‘Basically Electronic Earth as a title represents musically where I’m heading to as an artist. In that, I wanna be able to make both acoustic and electronic music side- by- side. You know, on one side you have artists like Adele who’s very much on an acoustic vibe, and then on the other you have like maybe Justice who are a kind of electro-house band. And to me, what I’m about as a musician is joining those two worlds TOGETHER…So yeah, in that way ‘Electronic Earth’ does truly represent me as both an artist AND a producer.’
Critical reception for Electronic Earth has been mixed. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 55, based on 8 reviews, which indicates ‘Mixed or average reviews’. Lewis Corner of music blog Digital Spy gave the album four out of five stars, pointing out that while ‘Labrinth’s lyrics are far from groundbreaking’, that ‘doesn’t make his music any less compelling’. Reviewing the album for The Guardian, Alexis Petridis gave Electronic Earth a more negative reception, claiming that Labrinth’s music is not as ‘original and groundbreaking’ as its lyrics suggest. Similarly, Killian Fox for said publication’s sister newspaper The Observer claims that on Electronic Earth Labrinth ‘has high ambitions but falls disappointingly short’.
Well, I am going to ignore a lot of that negative reception above, of this album and say, This Debut Album by Labrinth is totally, Incredibly Brilliant, from start to end.
If anyone tells you (and I guess I am talking about those critics of our leading music mags and papers) that Labrinth’s lyrics are not Imaginative or Inspiring enough, Dull or any other negative connotation that generally views these music genre’s lyrics, Please!, just take no notice. These critics have not understood the dimensions of this music genre that Labrinth belongs to. The fact is, British Hip-Hop and R&B is NOT (all of a sudden) going to take on lyrical dimensions of grandeur, as if Joni Mitchell, Paddy McAloon, Stevie Wonder, Jimmy Webb or even Mr Gary Barlow himself, have taken control of the lyricist pen. There are (of course) artists who are known solely for their lyrical prowess, Mike Skinner being a fine example; that does not mean that every artist, working in these Music Genres, should reach up to this kind of lyrical perfection. These music genres have boundaries. They need these boundaries to survive in an industry, where there is not the kind of support there is in America. British R+B and Hip-Hop also have Black British Cultural boundaries in these music genres, lyrically and musically. These criteria’s make these music genres identifiable as Black British Music Genres. To differ- ate fully left-field artistically, from these boundaries as a musician, you are then creating music art. You are breaking away from the traditional music rules, and you know what? May God Love Ya for that. You are setting the template for other musicians to follow. For Black British Music, this is important, because in the long run, it gives the Black British Music Genres, more longevity in where its music stars of today (and tomorrow) are created.
What is very evident about this Debut Album by Labrinth is that the man is making history. For goodness, sake you critics out there, the Boy is only 23 years of age. He is not just writing his own material, he is also producing himself as well. Goodness Gracious Me! Give the Boy his own recording studio complex, and just count how many of our greatest artists in the world of music, will walk into his recording studio.
In recent years, there have not been many Popular British R&B Artists, who have totally embraced Technical Innovation through the context of a whole album. Labrinth’s technical skill as a Producer, on this album will leave you in a musical shock. His use of electronica production on this album would put groups like Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk, seem like electronica apprentices. You are always aware listening to this album, that this is an electronica album, because of Labrinth’s technical skill as a Producer.
There is something though, about the album that I believe represents a Cultural Shift for Black British R+B/Hip-Hop Artists. This is something most music critics hardly ever talk or write about in the United Kingdom. Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Bashy, Wiley, Sway, Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk, Giggs and Lethal Bizzle are all young Black British Artists, who have achieved incredible success in the British Music Industry. Where before (even though there was success for the Black British Artist), it was NOT always continually successful, let alone recognised by the whole country, in where you lived and marketed your music. These young, next generation of Black British Artists, have reached comfortability, in how they connect with their music, and their fans. This has been a very long journey, in reaching the highest levels needed for young Black British music talent, which today, is reaching the equal of Black American young talent. With the artists I have mentioned above, you really get a feeling they are also very comfortable with music video.
Labrinth though, always had a bigger vision than his contemporaries did. It was Tinie Tempah, a Male Black British Artist, who fully embraced music video, so it is not surprising that the Producer behind Tinie Tempah’s music world would have an even bigger music vision for himself.
Like Tinie Tempah, Labrinth has also embraced music video, but in a way that NO BLACK BRITISH ARTIST has EVER done.
The technical innovation of Digital Video effects in the ‘Earthquake’ music video will TOTALLY! Amaze you, but it will amaze you even more if you are aware (as I am) that this kind of wizardry in music video has never been fully embraced by the Black British Artist before.
Labrinth is an innovator, he is making history in music video, and he is making history in the technical innovation of his Debut Album.
I would go far as to say, that from an album by a Black British Artist, it is one of the most innovative British Debut Albums ever made.
Labrinth has proved with this album, he is the UK’s equivalent of Hip-Hop/R&B producer, Pharrell Williams, in the United States.
This is just the beginning of an exciting chapter of Labrinth’s technical skill as an Artist and Music Producer.
A Truly Incredible Electronica-R+B, Hip-Hop, Hybrid Debut Album.
Labrinth Electronic Earth Syco
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