Joshua Luke Smith
Carry Me is available at:
30th April 2016
HAVING just completed a review of 17-year-old Folk artist…
Billie Marten: it is to a 25-year-old Bath-based Hip-Hop artist. Anyone who says music is predictable, samey and unadventurous should be in my shoes- over the course of a day, I am looking at two remarkable, if very different, artists. In fact, I could see the two coming together in collaboration. Marten’s silky, tender voice- and her tales of greed and love- could fit well with my featured artist’s inimitable brand of music- the two would make a great, if unlikely, partnership. I will stop putting ideas into heads, but that is my point: great musicians are exciting; they get you thinking and imagining- just what can be achieved by bringing two souls together. I shall not labour that: I wanted to look at motivation and inspiration in music; Hip-Hop and Bath/Bristol; finishing with a bit about talents with strings to their bow. It is rare you get to see a musician that promotes self-love, motivation, and improvement. Modern music is mired in insularity, accusations, and heartache: rarely do too many positive messages make their way into songs. Away from love-based tropes- she/he-broke-my-heart-how-will-I-live types of songs- there are an awful lot of negative and downhearted tracks. I understand the instinct to do this. A lot of musicians pursue their dreams because they see themselves as outsiders and alone. Emanating from depression, uncertainty and anxiety: musicians are often affected by mental illness, fears, and scars. Whether hurt or affected by relationship breakdown- or haunted by their own, inner-turmoil- they write about what they know (that is the thing they say, right?). Personal reality and relatable themes are not to be discouraged: we all need to hear about everyday things; subjects we can understand and connect with. That said, we need to embrace artists and musicians that are more positive and outward-thinking. Behind-the-scenes, how many musicians concern themselves with connecting with the world: giving something back and being a positive role model?
Sub-consciously, there is a wave of artists who are sending out great messages: I am not seeing enough acts engaging in extra-curriculum work; engaging with society and being a spokesperson. Music is a powerful format that allows a rarified platform: one where artists can use their influences and make changes in this world. Joshua Luke Smith is a musician who is making changes and inspiring many people- connecting with thousands out there. Before I carry on- and raise some new topics- let me introduce Smith to you:
“The 25-year-old wordsmith’s self-produced debut E.P. landed in the top 10 of the U.K. and international iTunes charts and has led the young poet and record label founder to receive BBC 6 Music radio-play as well as features with B.B.C. 1xtra and the London Roundhouse.
With his sophomore E.P. “Your Beauty” recently released, accompanied by a string of live shows Joshua Luke Smith is fast becoming an inspired and important voice for his generation”.
From such common names- ‘Joshua’ ‘Luke’ and ‘Smith’- you get a man who is anything but ordinary. The hirsute Hip-Hop star is one of the most talked-about new names on the block. Here is a young man that goes beyond predictability and expectations- in terms of the music he makes and sound- and delivers punch and drama; tenderness and reflection- so many different ideas and elements at work. When thinking of Hip-Hop- Smith hails from Bath- it gets me thinking about the legends of the genre. Bath and Bristol are areas of the U.K. that have produced some of music’s greatest. Portishead and Massive Attack are two Trip-Hop-Experimental-Rock acts that put the South-West on the map. In the ‘90s, there was an explosion of wonderful Trip-Hop artists: this has resonated with the current generation; those who are carrying on that legacy. Although Smith was born in Bath- a short drive from Bristol- he has been influenced by the Hip/Trip-Hop acts of the ‘90s: his sounds put you in mind of the past masters. What you get (with Smith) is a combination of bygone sounds and current-day immediacy. Little embers of U.S. Hip-Hop moulds with a distinct Britishness. Smith suffers dyslexia and dyspraxia (a condition that affects movement and balance) which has made life very difficult. Far from hiding away and letting the illnesses affect him: Smith has funneled this struggle into the music; encouraging others to break from their limitations and be whoever they want to. One of the sharpest and finest wordsmiths in music: the young artist is ensuring we do not have to suffer; music can provide an outlet for those affected- if he can make a career in music (given the problems he faces) then anyone can. It is this kind of strength and resilience that should be encouraged more.
Smith is more than Hip-Hop songwriter. Blending Soul and Hip-Hop together- reminding me a bit of James Blake- we have one of the most startling artists around. His self-produced, debut E.P. (Your Beauty) is a six-track collection that made its way into the top-10 of iTunes‘ Hip-Hop/Rap charts- mere hours after it was dropped to the world. You get substance, motivation, and philosophy (Smith is a philosophy graduate); wonderful stories and one-size-fits-all codas- much more depth and wisdom than most musicians are capable of. Founding Orphan No More– a record label that encourages the finest young talent to embrace who they are- their ethos is simple: Everybody Has a Message. That is the tagline and mission statement that drives their artists and leads to some wonderful music. Joshua Luke Smith is a name that will continue to grow and develop in years to come. Carry Me is the latest cut from one of the bravest and boldest musicians around Britain. There are few negatives you can attribute to Smith (he, in addition to thousands of musicians, call their careers a ‘journey’: I would make that an arrest-able offence): you get an honest, open and defiant young man that wants to change things and support musicians- anyone suffering and ‘different’ can be whoever they want to be. Smith’s sophomore E.P. has just been released and will kick-start a string of dates and appearances. Already appearing at the B.B.C. 6 Fringe Festival– gaining support from J.P. Cooper- and there is no telling where he can go. 2016 has been a productive and golden year: I feel the best days are still ahead. Having been out there for a few weeks: Carry Me is setting hearts alight; showing just what a force of nature Joshua Luke Smith is.
I am a fairly new convert to Joshua Luke Smith. Carry Me is taken from the E.P., Your Beauty. Younger and Dead Man have just been released. The former contains rapid spits and fast flow: young-days philosophies and reflections on life; days that mix “flames with fuel”. You get an assessment of life’s uncertainties and someone who believes in “hard times”- not star signs and everything fake and meaningless. It is a raw and relevant song that contains truths and meaning. Everyone who listens to the song can extrapolate guidance and direction. Dead Man is another short and sharp track (both never outstay their welcome) and boasts another assured, confident vocal. With sparse backing- electronic strings and a steady beat- the emphasis is on that vocal. Our hero has been reading philosophy pages and learning a lesson: since the dawn of time, man has been suffering the same pains; facing the same tests and trials. These tracks are new cuts that show just how far Smith has come. He has grown as a songwriter and sound utterly confident and comfortable in his skin. Every song is delivered with conviction and authority: meaning the words explode from the page into your brain. Carry Me’s companion songs are recommendable and stunning. Jack of Spades is a busy track that has a heavy beat and a real sense of menace. Our hero introduces himself (he is a jack of spades) and is struggling with his identity.
Having struggled- and struggling still- Smith is bursting and exploding from the seams- laying down a declaration of intent. A song that is instilled with Grime edges and Rap centres; Hip-Hop and Trip-Hop contrasts: an edgy, rapid song that gets the head nodding and the imagination working. After All is a softer and more contemplative song. Smith looks out at the proclivities of the world- nothing “natural about a natural disaster”- and struggles in a relationship. Unlike his contemporaries- who would tackle such common themes with predictability and cliché- you get hard beats and multi-tracked vocals (I am not sure who his female collaborator is). After all the struggles and problems: he still loves the girl; will fight for her. The Garden takes biblical ideas- Adam and Eve aren’t far away- and declare how were all born naked- we need to let go of our stones “and walk away”. Self-doubt and guilt see us looking into the mirror- doubting who were are- and is something we need to overcome. Your Beauty– as the title suggests- is about embracing who were are and not judging others; being assured of what we can accomplish and reaching for dreams- embracing the positive and redemptive aspects of life. Elements of The Streets and Massive Attack come through in the E.P.: a combination of ‘90s-Trip-Hop and ‘00s-Grime.
The jewel- in my opinion- of the Your Beauty E.P.: Carry Me has been gaining a lot of buzz and attention so far. It is hardly surprising given the stature and reputation Smith has. Rumbling percussion and distorted electronics welcome the track is. Fading in and out: you get sudden sparks and electronic drive; something teasing and dangerous lurks in the shadows. It is the compositional equivalent of being followed home on a dark night. You are not certain who is following you: every siren blare shocks you; ever noise unsettles you- there is a constant threat and menace (in the video version: the SoundCloud version is shorter). When our hero comes to the microphone, his heart is on his sleeves. Hating hearing his mother crying- he is more sensitive and restrained than on other tracks- there is that sense of vulnerability and loss. Maybe his mum was the one who supported (Smith) and helped him in life: understood what he was going through and gave him strength. Now the hero has left home- or is away right now- he can always go back. Maybe his absence has caused heartache a sense of loneliness (in his mum); his struggles and problems carry weight- she was the one “who used to carry me”. Your Beauty is an E.P. that contains a lot of hard-hitting and Hip-Hop tracks: those with fast rhymes and a constant pace. Carry Me is a more tender and reflective moment- the equivalent of The Streets’ Dry Your Eyes or Weak Become Heroes– that grows hotter and heavier. Never needlessly exploding or getting too quick: Smith quickens the pace and takes the song up a notch. Looking at his life- like he was walking through a cemetery- and how he has struggled. “I’m just a boy with some poems” underlines the simplicity and honesty of his life. A young man that wants to create songs and makes changes in the world: the streets were/are filled with fear and uncertainties. Walking past cars with steamed-up windows- whether masking late-night sex or joint-smoking crews- you get vivid images, smells and sounds.
In his Fred Perry polo and temporised fashion: Smith is out-of-place in the grime and edginess of the street. Intimidated by “renegades and imitators”- I get lyrical embers of The Streets’ Let’s Push Things Forward and Turn the Page– our man was hunched-over and fearful. Even in these early phases, you involve yourself in the song and close your eyes- watching the scenes unfold; the urban theater and the smoke-filled air. Someone who was afraid to fight- turning “right and left like indicators”- you get that sense of anxiety and building fear. Backed by static, driving beats and piano flourishes- they push the lyrics forward and provide a subtle, neo-romantic backdrop- the song never loses its energy and swagger. Having been (as a child) expelled from the classroom- maybe unruly or bored by the simplicity of education- Smith found himself staring down stairwells: on the estates; facing an uncertain time. That need for home and comfort- a million miles from the savage haze and danger-at-every-turn streets- is paramount, here. You picture the young man struggling to find meaning in the world. Maybe influenced (negatively) by modern artists and beat makers: the hero becomes a Breaking Bad-esque anti-hero: someone who contradicted his mother’s messages of grace and humanity.
Mrs. Smith would be disappointed to find her boy so far from the tracks: a stranger to the boy she raised; someone who has taken some wrong turns. Having dyslexia and dyspraxia: school life would have been a struggle and hard place. The world- those who do not know the realities of the conditions- shows no mercy and what options would one have? Smith is not rebelling or trying to fit in with the cool crowds: just struggling to cope in a world that does not understand him. Smith hates to hear his mum cry- the reason he is on Earth- and his sins must feel “like murder”. I admire the honesty and bravery that comes through in the song. Revealing some very personal and hard times: few artists have the courage to commit that to tape. Smith seems genuinely mournful and sorry about his actions: perhaps he was just misguided and misjudged his actions. Knowing the daily struggles he faced: who could blame the way things turned out? In the past- those wild, teenage years- lies were told. A mutual indemnification (between friends) and conspiracy: they would tell their mums they were sleeping around the other’s place. This deception was a front for drinking and hitting the town: chasing girls and getting into scrapes. Seemingly part of natural development- most teenagers go through that phase- the more mature man regrets his deceit. Maybe (thinking) this would balm his pain- drinking and fun was the way to ‘fit into’ society- our hero is apologetic and tearful. When confessing full disclosure to his mum- expulsion from school and drunken flights- you can feel the tension in the air.
The truth’s totality is causing distance between mother and son. At the time, Smith was subject to peer pressure: he wanted to belong and be accepted by his peers. What is important- and realised too late, perhaps- is making his mum proud; doing right and carrying the virtues she installed in him. Maybe Carry Me is a confessional that demonstrates family disorder: blackening the name and causing disappointment in his mother. Truthfully, Smith has not committed a huge transgression or crime- he has gone through a common course and regretted his foolhardiness. The fact he is willing to confess his shortcomings and naivety is to be applauded. The song will give other writers a much-needed spiritual reawakening. Too many get caught up in promoting their own ego or engaging in accusations with their (former) lovers. There are few that look at their past- and family connections- and address that. Smoking and drinking- being in a jungle and warzone- the young Smith never felt natural in that environment. A sad ritual that claims many innocent souls: Smith has taken a long time to discover his best days; man-up and follow a purer path. When “Diablo is your best mate” it is near-impossible to remain virginal, spiritual and kind: you get drawn to into a black culture and troubled path. The people that follow this road often get lost and claimed- turn to crime and become recidivists. Smith has wised-up and realised his shallowness.
Having made his way in the music world- and turned a corner- this song is a guide to the teenager out there. On the surface, a life of smoking, sex, and drinking may seem cool: it is a temporary release and is a drug; that way of life is not conducive to being productive and functional- it is the antithesis of kindness, humanity and respectability. As Smith points out: “I used to be knee-deep in a sea of different faces”; he is not here to preach. What started as a Hip-Hop track, transcends to something Gospel and divine. The mantra “I’m free” is delivered with a choral uplift: it is a soulful release that will affect every listener; the summation of years of guilt, frustration and lacking direction. The older Smith (still a young man) has broken the shackles and has become a man: something his mother would be proud of. The final moments layer the vocals and provide lovely little touches. Liquid strings and testing percussion backs Smith’s final confessions. Having walked in the wrong direction, the future is now: that is all in the past and things are different. Driven by a grooving bassline: when sh** gets real; you can go home and realise where you should be- and who is there when you need them. Exhausted by the rawness of his song: our hero finishes his confessions and lets the dust settle. What we are left with is an extraordinary moment from a young man who regrets the past- a human that does not want others to fall into the same trap.
I often get depressed at the hyperbole and false affection the media level at certain acts- a point I raised in the Billie Marten review. You get reviewers and stations- naming no names- that go bat-sh**-crazy for certain musicians: you wonder whether their ears are blocked; maybe they have suffered a blow to the head. I guess we get all look for that superstar: the act/band that is going to change the music world. Too much of the time, you see musicians that seem promising at first: over the years they start to lose that spark and seem very ordinary. Some would see Joshua Luke Smith and be unsure of his future: is he going the same way as every other musician out there? Perhaps that energy and talent will wane; the gold with start to tarnish- he will be off the scene in a few years. That is not going to be the case. Anyone who comes in that sharp and committed- his debut E.P. is a symphony of quality, depth, and assurance- is not going to slow anytime soon. I believe Smith’s finest work is still ahead. He has such a nimble and varied talent: able to go in any direction and achieve anything. Carry Me is the latest slice from a wonderful, rich artist. Intricate, detailed beats and layered compositions: vocals that get straight to the heart; lyrics that open the mind and urge you to think about the wider world. Orphan No More has a few artists on its book.
From Esther Moore’s Israeli-rooted, multicultural upbringing and Christocentric background: music that highlights social issues and personal experiences. Timothy is a 20-year-old poet that follows the Smith ideal: wonderful, wise words wrapped around gorgeous and soul-touching music. Let’s hope O.N.M. continues to grow and flourish: we need to embrace labels that emphasise rare and real talent. There are so many fake and over-privileged artists around: those that never struggle and provide very little to the listener. Smith is at the vanguard of a new wave of musicians: those that look at societal issues and promote positivity and fight. If you are afflicted with illness or disability; that does not mean you have to hide away and accept limitations. Music is a sanctuary that allows creative types to reflect their struggle and pain: turn their experiences into something positive and inspirational. Carry Me carries important messages and guidance for those similarly affected. The song sees the hero realises home is turning into the person you are supposed to be- not what convention and society dictates. Away from the love-only songs and negativity in today’s music: it is wonderful finding a musician that rebels against such things. I know we all need to hear about love and splits: when you’ve heard one song (about these things) you’ve heard them all. Step forward a young man that is writing music with more importance, originality and depth- this will give credence and kick to new musicians coming through.
From the mean (or quite pleasant, in fact) streets of Bath arrives a musician that has a glistening future ahead. I started by looking at the Hip/Trip-Hop legends that arrived from Bristol in the ‘90s- the artists that have inspired so many modern-day musicians. Smith is one of those people who was growing up in the 1990s: witnessing bands like Portishead and Massive Attack come through- a few miles down the road- and how they changed the face of music. Fast-forward to this decade and U.S. Hip-Hop acts and U.K. Grime artists have made their mark: all of this goes into music that fuses danger and grit with immense beauty and nuance. For me- being a bit poetic and that- I am hooked and enthralled by Smith’s way with words. A true wordsmith that can make the mundane very special: not somebody you’ll forget anytime soon. Make sure you get Carry Me– buy it is possible- and experience the wonder and worldliness of Joshua Luke Smith. A homegrown megastar-in-waiting that…
EVERYONE should make part of their lives.
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