“Real back in style, real Gs in attendance,” announces Potter Payper on the opening track to this long-gestating debut album. The titles of his projects have a tendency to be instructive: his acclaimed 2021 mixtape Thanks for Waiting references his long road to the forefront of the grime scene, once littered with missteps, misfortune and time spent incarcerated.
Naming this first record proper Real Back in Style, meanwhile, represents a mission statement; few rappers centre their lived experiences and self-reflection as intensely as Payper, and as his influence on his genre has grown, the concept of grounding rap lyricism in unflinching reality has again become fashionable.
The world that Payper invites us into on Real Back in Style is one defined by struggle, hardship and resolution in the face of adversity. He doesn’t hesitate to train his rapier wit on politicians (‘Blame Brexit’), the broken criminal justice system (‘Toy Story 1 & 2’) and, liberally, on those who have doubted him, but he reserves his most excoriating examinations for himself: on the standout ‘Money & Victims’, Payper, a former drug dealer, paints a harrowing portrait of losing loved ones to addiction before ruminating on his own role in perpetuating cycles of misery.
There are moments of relative levity, such as on ‘How Can I Explain’, a triumphant confirmation that he does not take any of his success — or his post-prison liberty — for granted. Those familiar with Payper’s past work, and particularly with the Training Day trilogy of mixtapes, will know that he favours minimalism in his beat selection, and while trap influences the percussion on Real Back in Style, the instrumentals are often more indebted to 90s US hip hop.
Similarly, while their accents are an ocean apart, the satisfying juxtaposition between the smoothness of Payper’s flow and the gruffness of his voice brings to mind Guru of Gang Starr. That Payper’s vocals are so gravelly is fitting; above all, Real Back in Style is an exercise in authenticity.