From the record sleeve depicting tigers, bears and snakes prowling the dark alleys of an urban area, on The Bare Necessities, Birmingham rap sensation Mowgs is sending a clear message – there are beasts on these streets. Throughout his second full length mixtape, featuring some of the best and brightest names in UK rap such as MIST, SK, Rimzee, Country Dons and Haze Da Martian, Mowgs documents the perils of his upbringing. From the jump, he states, “Sometimes, I really wonder if there’s heaven or hell / coz I feel there is only two ways dead or in jail.” He chooses rap to chase his dreams, reminiscing about his past, creating art from the perspective of the crime-ridden ends; it is an album about soaking in the feeling of winning and bouncing back after losing.
His vocal takes center-stage, as the Brummie rapper’s dictation is crystal-clear, refined by his rough-around-the-edges wisdom. On ‘Halifax’, he’s on the motorway doing 90mph, listening to his song on the radio – calling out a hundred ways of getting out of there. None of them are easy and on the mellow buzz of ‘Speak’, he tells it as it is – “fuck it I’m not crying over spilt milk/ don’t get goosebumps standing on the road that I bled”. He warns the detractors and haters within the next bars: “we came up the same, no pot to piss in/ I just trap hard dog that’s the only difference / so don’t think I had it easy coz you see I’m winning”.
Astonishingly, Mowgs encompasses the experiences of other characters that share the bedlam with apparent ease. In ‘A Girl From Erdz’, he intricately details the sad tale of a young woman from Erdington, a working-class suburb in North Birmingham: “she always kept herself to herself but every time she smiled, man, her eyes screamed for help.” He moves mercurially across the record, on ‘The Dayz’ harking back to Elysian days on the block, focusing in on a brotherhood “splitting fivers for food”.
Throughout the album, you get the sense of Mowgs strutting the streets, passing through shops and bars, observers peeking through alleyways – documenting the daily squabble for resources. The flinty landscape is conveyed on ‘Clockwork Pt.2’ and ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with baltic end of the piano keys, concrete music and the echo of a multitude of voices.
As Mowgs rises above, he and Haze Da Martian tell it on ‘Who’s To Blame’ – “I’m never lying when I’m in the booth.” On ‘Swerve Off’, Mowgs x MIST pass the baton and on ‘Ride Along’, he and Rimzee trade tales about the influence of the muse. That’s where it all begins, on ‘Trap Boys’, Country Dons tell it: “we were rapping for no accolades.” Coming up as Mowgs did, isn’t easy, on ‘Slowjam’ he raps, “if you ain’t lived how I’ve lived, you’ve ain’t never been a man”.
On the slumbering LA lounge feel ‘Outro’, the soul sings, “around my city where I come from/ take me back /staying true to myself, I’m surrounded by all these fakery/the streets trying to eat me alive but I’m rising above.” Mowgs calls out to allies, been and gone – “I used to think with my heart now I think with my head, coz if I carried on with that then I would’ve been dead/We came upon the bare necessities when we were just children.” Across The Bare Necessities, Mowgs maps the heart, mind and soul of his Birmingham. It is required listening.