Literally 7 years ago, one of the most pivotal mixtapes dropped that affected the then burgeoning genre of ‘road rap’. Already, the UK climate had shifted in MC culture away from grime as a dominant style for expression on the mic and slowly started to allow the biggest names in London to become mainstream names. While the likes of Giggs, K Koke or Krept & Konan weren’t nearly as popular as they would come to be, there was little to no doubt that the genre was finally getting recognition. At the same time though, criticisms that frequently come up with certain strains of road rap were just as prominent then; certain tunes sounded ‘too american’ to some listeners with the stern, militant sounding trap style beats, and more than a few MCs were deemed too generic both in what they rhymed to and as well their style on the microphone.
While I wouldn’t dare say that all changed strictly from the release of Jetski Wave, there appears little doubt that it was a major step in the right direction for a scene that perhaps needed a splash of color or a bit more character. The mixtape’s author, a still relatively teenaged Agassi Odusina AKA as Sneakbo was most certainly a ‘character’ of some repute. Hailing from Brixton, he was yet to turn 20 when in between one incarceration sentence and a potential incarceration on the way, he dropped his debut mixtape to rapid success. Sneakbo, supposedly affiliated with the GAS Gang at the time, had earned recognition for his mic skills and infamy for rumors of living reckless culminating in a tale that involves rumors of juju we dare not address. After 2011, Sneakbo would soon find himself cited as a favorite rapper of none other than a still rising Drake, and become one of the leaders of the rap scene for a few years. But now, as we look back from a world where Sneakbo has been on nationally charting singles and managed to still keep himself in the pack years down the line, what exactly made Jetski Wave such a smash success?
When asked about his interest in UK music during a tour through the UK to support his sophomore album Take Care, Drake very impressively isolated one of the most important methods of Sneakbo: a hybrid style that relied on production that was influenced both by dancehall and hip-hop to come at a sort of point of merging of the dual styles. On tracks such as “Wave Like Us” and “Touch a Button”, Sneakbo was more nimble than the more rigid approaches by previous generations of Road Rap without going into grime-style franticness, but blessed with an impressive sense of precision and notably patois-tinged accent. As natural as it might have emerged, his style was exactly the kind of style that Road Rap needed and laid down the groundwork for whole new schools of approach. Without Jetski Wave’s synergy of road rap and bashment, its hard to imagine the future successes of artists such as Mostack or J Hus who’ve moved this formula further into the direction of afrobeats, taking the hybridization even further into a voice that’s distinctly British for as many different points of musical origin. Timbo also needs a certain amount of praise here.
It isn’t just this aspect that makes it so potent however, but the additional development of Sneaky’s more “wavy” material. Not since Max B had ‘wavy’ truly been a signature element of an artists style, but Sneakbo mined a very similar sort of clean, melodic rap production style dominant in the earlier part of the decade. When opener “I’m Wavey” kicks off, Sneakbo already started like he was thinking for commercial success and had the natural sort of songwriting skill that certain rappers take years to develop the confidence and comfort for. Some of the production leaned slightly into the EDM-influenced pop of the era, and more than a few were freestyles over top 40 pop records, yet at no point did Sneakbo sound out of place or like he might be forcing himself to make hits. As a result even with the production feeling out of time with the present scene’s tastes, the mixtape never feels congested or difficult to endure from front to start. The songs range from romantic, anthemic, introspective or downright hard-edged, and all constantly full of Sneaky casually delivering bars and switching up flows with 50 Cent circa 2001 level ease. It’s no wonder that Sneak would later move off into forays in EDM himself, given that over a number of different styles he manages to hit home runs for 23 tracks front to back.
All in all, when road rap finally is asked to list the various classics that have made it such an enduring scene in UK music history, someone will have to undeniably bring Jetski Wave into the conversation. Even in 2018, it still manages to sound crisp and refreshing, especially with similar issues still managing to make keeping up with the scene a bit of a chore for certain listeners. Even if Sneakbo never manages to release a record with this level of impact, he can take great satisfaction in knowing that thanks to him, UK Rap has been inherently changed for the better.
Words: Maxwell Cavaseno