Reviewed by Andrew Midgley
There is a salted honesty about the priorities of the emcee from Forest Gate, London. "I was still creating music while I was planning to get married," he says of his seven-year hiatus, "but I felt that God had other plans and I quickly learned that something had to give." That something was Presha's creative projects, but the good news is that in the interim since the 'No More' and 'Changes' EPs, Robert Awuku Jr has grown up, both as a musician and a disciple - the Liverpool-supporting rapper works part-time coaching youth football, and the well-roundedness that comes from having priorities other than musical success comes across here. That's not to say that 'The Traveller's Guide' betrays a lack of attention, though - the whole album carries a dreamy, staring-out-of-the-train-window feel with enough going on production-wise to fully absorb you in your headphones. While the default is to Presha-rapped verses punctuated by vocoded choruses from long-time collaborator Leke, there is differentiation amid the swirls of looped vocal wash, crash-beat percussion, and punches of subaquatic bass: Final track "Live For You" revels to good effect in club-retro EDM, "War" unspools to a Fleetwood Mac sample, and the title track at least indulges in a piano hors d'oeuvre before reverting to type. The principal concern for 'The Traveller's Guide', in fact, is its lyrical quality control: 'Travelling' rhymes "far" with first "far", then "car", then "Mars", while the title track's coupling of "marriage" and "carriage" jarringly evoke Frank Sinatra. The message overall is still very much worthwhile, stepping away a little from the altar calls of Awuku's more straightforwardly evangelical earlier work like "Throw It In The Air" to push the listener toward discipleship: "What's a walk in the park with no intention?/Or sailing a ship with no direction?" he raps on "Station". It is ironic in the end that what endures about the album is that a musical destination has not been reached: more recent single release "New One" - a swagger down Skepta street in its return to grime influences - could have balanced the blissed-out journeying here with something more immediately memorable, and it's not as if there wasn't space on the CD - at six tracks, 'The Traveller's Guide' has been and gone within the half hour. In length and in content it feels like there's more to come, but there is enough promise here to suggest that it will do.
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