Mike Dennis is not your typical Bristol MC. Combining his classical violin, a strong loop pedal performance and a grounded knowledge in production; his work is an interesting step forward into the future of hip-hop and rap.
His latest EP Junction 19 is his next release after the album Smiles and Cries from last year. It is paired with the upcoming Junction 29 EP and respectively they’re based on the motorway slip roads that grant entry to Bristol and Cardiff.
Junction 19 begins with the title track describing Bristol from a perspective only someone living there could give. Layered not only with personal connections but sonically layered too; the track’s production is inspired by the loop pedal performance it would have been written for. Juxtaposing beautiful violin strains against well crafted generated beats, the first track sets up the sound of Mike Dennis’ style.
Following the title track, ‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ is a remix of a previously released song. Again, the track is extremely layered, but possibly too much so – barely leaving room to breathe under the weight of extra production. Whilst the second verse is less built up and easier to understand, the remix does leave a little to be desired and is too overcome with samples and additional instrumentation to stand out on this EP.
Shining through however is ‘UnDo’ featuring JB Nichols – the solo endeavour of Rob Nichols from Cardiff band Junior Bill. The smooth & clear production is also accentuated by sharp stabs of violin and drum beats. Strong, beautiful choruses sit in between understated verses with a dark bridge that once again builds in the loop pedal style. Nichols’ voice swoops throughout the track, bringing a new style unheard from the singer before.
The next track ‘OK KO’ is a disappointment after this. Whilst rap can often be very “on the nose”, you’d expect something different from Dennis. Unfortunately, this track dates itself quickly, concerning itself with Donald Trump and Theresa May and social media trends and pitfalls. Hip hop tends to be more exciting when it breaks away from these clichés and escapes the boundaries of just stringing sentences together.
‘Things’ is a great anti-consumerism track, much better than a lot of cringe-worthy modern diatribes. The fantastic production includes a beat that’s hard to resist head bobbing to and little licks of violin come through from the second verse – which is clearly Dennis’ aural trademark. The song’s concept about “things that I didn’t buy” is layered with humour and irony with an exceptional rap flow.
Finally ‘Learned How To Be’ finishes off the EP on the upbeat. A personal rap about how Dennis “learned how to be cool”, it puts the typical story-telling rap against unusual production and with a similarly unusual flow but still includes clever wordplay that makes you smile. Bouncing between rap and melodic vocal lines, Dennis uses his features well (in this case Amy D) without need for guest verses but with a simple “Rihanna hook” (for want of a better term).
Junction 19 sets out to be a sort of concept EP from the start, but instead is more like an assortment of more recent music from Mike Dennis. Whilst some tracks (‘UnDo’ and ‘Things’) are undoubtedly strong and interesting, others (‘Men With Guns Reloaded’ and ‘OK KO’) could have been left off to create a more cohesive release. Undoubtedly though, it sets up great expectations for the next EP Junction 29.