It’s safe to say that after appearing at, and shutting down, virtually every major North East hip-hop and grime event this year, and receiving weeks of continuous radio play with their breakout singles “NANG” and “Levelz”, NE Dons’ debut EP has been one of the most hotly anticipated projects of the year. But, does it live up to the hype?
Boasting a star studded feature list, including 10 of the North East’s top rappers and one of the UK’s top underground stars Mr Traumatik, the six track EP kicks off with NE-O and Castle by themselves, going back to back on “Can’t Slip”. The duo spit bars at a constant break neck speed over the four minute opener – the energy is so high on this track that you’ll feel exhausted just listening to it. Lacking a hook, “Can’t Slip” is less a ‘song’ and more a display of the duo’s abilities behind the mic; this track is the closest you’re going to come to feeling the amped up energy of NE Dons’ intense live performances without being there.
The next two cuts are without a doubt the EP’s highlights: “Pick & Mix” and title track “NANG”. “Pick & Mix” sees the first feature of the EP, from “Spit One Lyric” rapper Eyeconic; the constant fluctuation of the beat from skippy summer vibe on hooks, to bassy dub drops on verses, paired with the very different cadences from each of the three MCs, makes “Pick & Mix” an engaging listen from start to finish – plus, it’s just catchy as f**k.
Speaking of catchiness, “NANG” is one of those tracks that after hearing it once you simply cannot get it out of your head. Its simple hook etches itself into your brain, with enough intricate flows and witty punchlines in the verses to keep the song interesting – it’s definitely the best ‘song’ on the EP, hitting the perfect balance between intelligent word play and simplistic refrains.
Lyrically, NE Dons aren’t about high brow political commentary or sob stories about how hard their lives have been; they’re all about witty punchlines, viscerally delivered flows, word bending, and, of course, repping their city. In a way, you could describe it as ‘purist grime’; the focus is on lighting up shows and making you want to punch your bedroom windows out, not on making you think.
Named after the iconic North East dialling code, “0191” is a collaboration track that feels special; it’s essentially a North East all-star line-up, featuring Newcastle’s Mav, Zico, Kema Kay and H-Man, and Wearside’s E-Mence, Claymore, Listaa and 90BRO. Each artist comes with a top shelf verse, none standing out as weaker or better than the rest, just all very unique, reflecting the diversity of the North East scene as a whole.
With its impressive feature list, mix of radio friendly and straight up punch in the face grime tracks, ‘NANG’ is one of the strongest releases of the year. NE Dons are further defining and refining Newcastle’s grime sound – its identity if you like – in a way that hasn’t been done since Newcastle grime pioneers HB first exploded onto the scene. It’s aggressive, it’s raw, it’s high energy, but most of all it’s fun.