Album Review: Claye - Medicine
by Steve Topple
The word “precocious” is often used as an insult. But in terms of artists, it should sometimes be seen as a positive thing. The latest release from UK-based Claye is utterly precocious. But it’s in a thoroughly good way.
Medicine, released by A4Ward, is an ambitious project from this multi-talented artist. Not only does it cover an intricate mashing-up of genres and styles, but Claye produced and mixed the whole album himself. No mean feat – but he has pulled it off immaculately.
The album is undeniably leaning to Afrobeats. But the influences of other producers, genres and the UK music scene are clear throughout. Claye’s impressive production and mixing skills make Medicine feel like a major label’s release. But it’s the song writing and his vocal performance which truly shine.
Medicine opens with Badbwoy. And it sets the tone well for the rest of the album. The Afrobeats influence is clear with the offbeat, jittery percussion driving the sound. But its rhythm is predominantly Two-Step, nodding to Claye’s liking for RnB producers such as Timbaland. Synth horns flit in and out, as do other Afrobeats electronics.
But Claye has done an interesting taking on the bass line. He’s taken the usual, five beat clave pattern and stretched it out. The bass has a long break between the first two beats and the third that drops on the third beat of the bar. Then its embellished, mimicking the vocal line, before the pattern begins again. This variation on Dancehall’s standard phrasing smooths the track out somewhat, making it less frantic. He puts in a commanding vocal performance as well, flipping between a sultry upper baritone and tenor and some mean singjay. This transports Badbwoy into more Dancehall territory, making the track a finely tuned mash up of genres.
The rest of Medicine is heavy on the Afrobeats influences. And Claye has done an efficient job with these. Cuts such as Gimme A Piece and Jamaican Love technically fit the genre. But with Claye, nothing is that straightforward. And it’s the deviations from the Afrobeats rule book which are the sparks of genius Claye fires off.
iloveyou is one such example. He’s taken the formula of an RnB ballad and flipped it. The genre’s keys are consistent throughout. The percussion emphasises the downbeats, while the bass switches between doing its own thing and mimicking the keys. The track is heavy on the synths; like, really heavy, increasing in intensity as the track progresses. This almost moves their use from Afrobeats dimensions to EDM. But it’s Claye’s vocal which truly shines. It may be his best performance on the album. He glides between a delicate then rasping tenor, before taking it to a next level falsetto. His phrasing, intonation and improvisation are all first class, moving the track to a 2020 Neo Soul affair. Gorgeous.
Hustle, meanwhile, is a really clever fusion of genres. It opens with a pronounced Hip Hop-RnB keys solo, which in another life could have been the work of 2Pac. Then, Claye leans towards Drill in the percussive arrangement, with the signature buzz roll on the snare across the third beat. But he combines this with the album’s Afrobeats offbeat mainstay, creating an ambiguous vibe. The bass uses a reduced clave, dropping on the first and just before the third beats, adding to that stuttering feel. Claye’s vocal switches between styles, flitting between glossy RnB and rhythmically complex Afrobeats. But overall, the composition is pure RnB, with a minor key bridge taking it almost into ballad territory. Pure class.
In Walls, you can hear the influence of Drill coming through. The bass, while on a smoothed out half time riff, has had the Hz messed with, creating a grimy, over-amplified effect reminiscent of Drill (or Trap if you’re in the US). Yet the percussion deviates between a clear Two-Step and frantic Afrobeats. The kick is incessant. Those Hip Hop-RnB keys are back. And Claye’s vocal is, again, a thing of beauty – gliding effortlessly around the swiftly moving instrumentation.
Another curious creation is Room. It’s almost Toronto in its Ambient RnB feeling. That Drill riff is back, but this time on the hi hat. The bass repeatedly cuts in on an edge-of-a-cliff offbeat, but then dives into a triplet at the end of every eighth bar. The percussion plays a similar role, making it feel that little bit Afrobeats. Synths strings caress the other instrumentation, almost out of earshot. Call and response vocal arrangements add to this atmospheric concoction. But it’s exceptional, and could have easily been the work of Drake.
Cure, featuring the talents of J Spades, goes hard on the Dancehall. It opens with a synth marimba working with a high pitched 808 on a reduced, three beat clave. Hi hats and a kick drum then drop in to join rhythm, hammering home the Dancehall vibe. But a deep 808 uses more of a beamed, Grime pattern, smoothing out the edges. Those RnB keys make a brief return, while the use of other synths and vocal effects borrows from EDM. Claye’s rapid-fire vocal and intricate riffs are off set with J Spades slick rap. It’s London all over, and could easily be a huge club banger.
But it’s the title track which is probably one of the strongest on the album. Medicine demonstrates Claye’s determinedness not to be boxed in. The bass does a variant on a three beat Dancehall clave. The keys bash out straight chords on the root and the third, but they flit between down and offbeats, borrowing from RnB. The percussion almost screams Soca, while the heavily synthed, syncopated horns could be Ska if they were live instruments (albeit at half the time). The heavily embellished RnB vocal melody and backing line is juxtaposed by it being rhythmically complex, leaning to Afrobeats. The whole package is ingenious, putting you in mind of the forward thinking of the likes of Rodney Jerkins.
The album is contemporary gold from Claye. Slick, inventive production has met ingenious, appealing composition. And Medicine is all held together by the man’s intuitive, exceptionally pleasing vocal performance. Many of the tracks could easily be hits. That’s perhaps testament to this artist’s precocious ability in all areas of his craft. Superb.
Claye - Medicine
DIGITAL RELEASE / CD [A4Ward]
Release date: 01/31/2020
04. Full Hundred
05. Gimmie a piece
06. I Love You
07. Jamaican Love
13. Slow Love
14. Body Language feat. Doktor
15. Cure feat. J SPades
16. Green Light feat. Mar Villarreal
17. Bamboo feat. Ayo Beatz (RMX)