Diving close-up into the exciting early days of a new relationship, the video for Kamal’s new single ‘free flow’ is his artistic essence in microcosm: intimate, sensual, and based entirely in his bedroom. While his sound has gained global support and recognition from Billie Eilish and ‘Mercury’ collaborator Dave, the 20-year-old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist still essentially embodies the teenage bedroom pop dream.
During the pandemic, his breakout single ‘homebody’ became an anthem for teenagers suffocated by the isolation and anxiety of lockdown, the poignant hook, “They say that I’m wasted potential / Meant to make my days all eventful / But sometimes I can’t help but stay at home” suddenly resonating with millions.
2021’s debut EP War Outside solidified his reputation for soft, powerful vignettes that capture bittersweet adolescent experiences of love, lust, loss, and pain. Central to his voice is a knack for clear, concise, heartfelt lyrics and a distinctly DIY vibe.
Kamal’s parts on the aforementioned link-up with Dave were recorded in his bedroom studio in Harlesden, North-West London (where he was born and raised), like most of his music. On his ten-track debut mixtape, so here you are, drowning, that introspective feel is again front-and-centre.
Across the tape, his tuneful, breathy vocals are conversational, delivered calmly, and shaped by attention to rhythm and flow. That suggests Kamal is familiar with the rap heritage of his corner of London, which has produced cult UK rap heroes like Nines and Skrapz.
His lyrics hold a deep sense of realism and honesty that makes them all the more relatable; he speaks fearlessly about romantic relationships, experiences of anxiety, and the beauty of the mundane and the everyday.
At its core, so here you are, drowning is a collection of tracks that capture the intensity of adolescent love and lust, perhaps none more so than the minimalist, acoustic guitar-led ‘Better’, on which Kamal sings, “I keep a place in my heart / You know me better / I see your face in the dark… It don’t get much better than this”. Elsewhere, tracks like ‘White Wine’ reflect on the painful reminders of a lost relationship, dissecting “all of these moments you left with me” against chorus-drenched guitar chords that remind you of Frank Ocean’s seminal record Blonde.
Gliding between dreamy bedroom pop tunes, the tape is a somewhat insular listen, but that’s no bad thing — its stripped-back instrumentals combine soft piano melodies and rough acoustic guitar strums in a cleverly-textured way, creating a gentle backdrop for Kamal’s introspective vocals. As indicated by its title, the mixtape’s central theme is Kamal’s struggle to tread water against the tides of emotional and mental turmoil.
This idea is inspired by the Caleb Azumah Nelson novel ‘Open Water’ (and tied closely to the root principle of fellow London lyricist Loyle Carner’s second album, ‘Not Waving, But Drowning’) and is present across the project. The floaty, expansive ‘Falling’ narrates a heady, inescapable dive into a new relationship, with a sense of terrified powerlessness at its core. At the same time, the sparse, delicate ‘Crowded Places’ sings “, I get scared in crowded places / Trying to find the room to breathe”.
And ultimately, Kamal can’t help but succumb to the pressure. In the project’s final song ‘Drown’, a sombre, melodic track built around chiming piano and the crisp swing of a simple clap-cymbal sequence, those mental conflicts become too much, captured by a hook of “Drown / They’re pulling me under, pulling me under the ground”. The tape ends with a spoken word segment that ruminates, “You’ve always thought if you open your mouth in open water you would drown, but if you didn’t open your mouth, you would suffocate / So here you are, drowning”.
It’s a sad, powerful way to conclude things, and ultimately it will resonate with many of the precocious Londoner’s young fans. By communicating that struggle to combat isolation, manage anxiety, and find a balance between co-dependency and heartbreak, Kamal connects with a generation that’s grown up against a uniquely chaotic social backdrop.
At the same time, his undeniable pop songwriting ability will likely take him far beyond the confines of that core following; that’s not what this album exhibits just yet, but so here you are, drowning remains an impressive indicator of what’s to come.