When he burst onto the scene in the summer of 2018, Unknown T made a name for himself through his ability to intertwine stories of street life with catchy hooks and captivating flows. His breakout hit ‘Homerton B’ was the first UK drill song to go silver, and ever since he has built upon this success in establishing himself as one of the genre’s premiere wordsmiths.
Unknown T has always had an aptitude in manipulating drill instrumentals, using his trademark bass voice to flow relentlessly from verse to chorus to verse. His first Daily Duppy is a standout feature among hundreds in the GRM Daily series, his Colors Show rendition of ‘Goodums’ has garnered near-unanimous praise, and previous mixtapes have both charted and proved to be some of drill’s most coherent attempts at full length projects.
Yet for as consistent as Unknown T has been, the drill scene does not seem to have not kept up. The artist may not agree, having released a single in 2022 titled ‘Who said drill’s dead?,’ but Digga D, fellow collaborator on Blood Diamond, has publicly stated otherwise, and the genre as a mainstream force does seem to be on the wane.
Few new artists are making the same waves as either Unknown T or Digga D made in the infancy of their careers with streams and views down across the board, and the genre does not demand the same intrigue it once did.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the artist has made a necessary segue into the broader rap scene. A move that has slowly allowed the Homerton native to realise the full potential of his lyrical talents, a realisation all too evident on Blood Diamond.
‘Welcome 2 My Strip’ and ‘Passa’ represents the most radical diversion for Unknown T, the former using a catchy guitar riff along with afrobeat-inspired drums to produce a hit-worthy cut featuring Nigeria’s Odumodublvck. ‘Passa’ shows off Unknown’s surprisingly tolerable vocals, a rarity in the UK drill-scene, to spread a message of hope as he croons “our lives still matter.”
There is also an abundance of more classic rap on Blood Diamond. ‘Time’ features a beat that sounds like it could have been pulled straight from the mid-2000s, featuring Kanye West-inspired pitched-up vocals, and a much more snare-heavy drum line compared to the hi-hat focused drill style. ‘Bon Appetit’ does have more drill elements, but the horns making up the melody give the track a captivating twist. Unknown’s lyrical qualities are almost a given at this point, but his rhyme scheme on ‘Bon-Appetit’ is extra special.
That is not to say Unknown T abandons his drill roots, however. ‘2023’ is the perfect introduction, featuring an ominous build up before the artist breaks into a minute straight of his non-stop, surprisingly intricate flow. ‘AVEN9ERS ASSEMBLE’ gives Rise Above Hate’s ‘AVEN9ERS’ a sequel, this time featuring the extended 98s. Whilst it does not reach the (albeit very high) heights of the 2020 release, the track is proof that Unknown T still holds dear both the music and those that were with him from the start, whilst providing a hard-hitting, entertaining cypher.
The final leg of the project also sees Unknown deliver a string of drill cuts, including a re-release of his second Daily Duppy. Normally I would not attempt to justify an already-released freestyle making a re-appearance on an album, however in this case the track is so well delivered, is littered with endless clever references from Top Boy to Eastenders, and is so well written that it almost demands an official release.
The project does lull in the middle. The one short verse on ‘Ignition Interlude’ is far too in-your-face for a LoFi instrumental, and one is left wishing that the beat-switch towards the end of the song had come before Unknown’s delivery. Similarly, ‘Rain’’s instrumental, featuring a gospel choir beneath drill hi-hats and Unknown T’s tales of a dysfunctional relationship, makes for an awkward listen. Coupled with the clumsy transition between verses and Tiana Major9’s chorus ballads, the track sees a less than successful attempt to intertwine styles.
Yet for the one misfire, Unknown T has several triumphs at merging styles. ‘Hocus Pocus’ incorporates drill drums, yet is mellowed and adapted to suit both Unknown and the featuring Loyle Carner. ‘Right Hand’ is for all intents and purposes a song by the feature artist, Knucks, featuring a trademark laidback instrumental. Despite that, Unknown T holds his own alongside one of the best contemporary rappers in the scene right now, delivering one of his best hooks on the project, meshing the twos’ contrasting styles excellently.
Perhaps Unknown T’s highest point in Blood Diamond is his flip of Giggs and Dubz’ iconic anthem in ‘Adolescence.’ It is always a difficult task remixing a classic track, especially one as embedded in the culture as ‘Pain Is The Essence.’ Unknown T, however, with a co-sign from both original artists, does the original track more than justice alongside Digga D.
Giggs asserts in the introduction that “we’re taking it from the old generation to the new generation,” and it does feel as much as Unknown and Digga go back-to-back, interpolating elements of the original track. It feels as if both artists have broken out from the ‘drill’ label, and are now genuine rappers.
Whilst the project may slightly fall victim to its own length, it is exactly what Unknown T’s debut album should be. Blood Diamond demonstrates that the artist is not bound by the ‘drill’ label, whilst refining his lyrical craft. The closer, ‘Til We Meet Again,’ encapsulates the project. Captivating, versatile, and grand without going over-the-top.