King Meraki - Why It Bothers Me I Can’t Sleep (Subfriction) - A Texture Review

Released prior to MVCC’s TIFA (which he also produced as Kid Robotik), and very much acting as a companion piece, the debut from King Meraki offers a bleaker, more nihilistic vision than MVCC’s cold, detached take on grief and belonging. Perhaps this was down to it being written first; perhaps this just displays a difference in temperament between Ryan ‘Kid Robotik X King Meraki’ McGeady and his closest collaborator. Either way, King Meraki emphatically does not waste any time fucking around. The album combines emptiness, alienation, hedonism and fury in a batch of songs which are as unique as they are addictive and technically astonishing.

Opener 2:32am introduces the theme of insomnia, referenced in the title. It begins with static, and the repeating tones and strange countdown of a numbers station, creating a feeling of paranoia, solitude and trepidation. The first beat blasts in over the samples with the assault of first-wave dubstep or lo-fi, underground trap, Meraki’s flow a devastating barrage of triplets, sometimes nasal and imperious, sometimes breathless and anxiety-ridden: “Welcome to the shit show, my life.”

The way the sampled ‘six’ rides the beat makes it instantly infectious, propulsive, and the song’s short run time rattles by faster than you expect - a theme that repeats throughout the album. Where rap albums can often be sprawling, with ideas, tunes and verses outstaying their welcome, ‘Why It Bothers Me…’ is lean and mean, not an ounce of fat on it.

Stop It transposes the claustrophobic urban gospel of Burial-like vocal samples with another sinuous trap baseline - it’s aggressive, raising the stakes from the first tune’s intensity. The dubstep influence is here, too - with chopped, off-beat ragga melodies and complex beat production. Throughout, just as with TIFA, the production is a masterclass. It’s hard to think of any producer in the Scottish scene whose beats bang as hard as Kid Robotik’s.

Fellow TOGO members Pro-C and Mega join him for All Day, a subterranean, rumbling, drill-like groove which the trio turn into a blistering reflection on street life, drugs, and the grind of hip-hop’s competitive culture. Big Shamu checks in for Havoc, with its chopped soul chorus, Ryan’s verse delivered through a dense wall of FX. It’s experimental, psychedelic, hectic - inducing the kind of high you feel when you’re drinking and smoking to escape something. “If I was you I would run for the trees / If I was you I would jump in the sea,” reflects Meraki, his cadences swaying with drunken menace.

Chopping Block, with an appearance from Orry Carren, is a brutal highlight - 2 minutes of swaggering drug braggadocio that shows the intense highs and decrepit lows of drug abuse. “You can explain yourself when you’re in front of God,” the chorus intones - there is no judgment here, just reality; a Carpenter-esque synth melody, and speaker-blowing sub-bass.

Lights Out, Bridges (with MVCC) and Agnes (with Becca Starr) are the tracks which engage most directly with the themes of loss and grief, which preoccupied MVCC on TIFA. Ryan’s goodbyes to his friend Lumanes are more elliptical, less direct than MVCC’s clear-eyed resolve and deep depression: “Now we can only breathe when the tide’s out,” he raps on Lights Out. Agnes, named for his grandmother but inspired by the tragic loss of another friend, is the closest the album gets to boom-bap, but Meraki and Starr ride it like grime regardless. Playing the affecting chorus for all its worth, this is also the poppiest moment of the album.

Bridges is the key track - stark, reverb-saturated guitars loop in and out of a minimalist, bass-heavy beat. “Can’t look out my window any more in the night time,” raps Meraki, breaking down his mental state as he tells the story of his friend’s last days, with an eloquence and elegaic resignation that is emotionally devastating. And yet, there is a note of hope. As much as the title references Lumanes’ death, it also offers a chink of light - the ‘bridge’ is a metaphor for endings, but also beginnings (“We’re building a bridge, my brothers…”). You’d have to be made of stone not to be affected by the lyrics here, MVCC mournfully rapping: “How the fuck do I look at his family?”

Like Loki’s powerful and didactic Don’t Jump, these tracks address a very personal, but also incredibly resonant and important subject: the emotional fragility, and the very real and turbulent precariousness of the lives young men and women lead nowadays. This is an important topic, driven by personal experience and hard-learned lessons rather than headlines and hashtags. That it is Scottish hip-hop artists who are prepared to challenge the preconceptions we have about the stoic, tough nature we are supposed to cultivate is as welcome as it is surprising.

While others, including MOG, and several up-and-coming ‘sadboi’ trap rappers like Joezki (who cameos here on Play Time), or Oozing Goon, are also regularly beginning to address grief, loss, depression, and the psyche in their work, it is MVCC and King Meraki’s contributions which stay longest in the mind, perhaps first and foremost down to the undeniable excellence of Kid Robotik’s production. It represents a new stylistic direction for Scottish rap, one which takes the emo-influenced, goth-trap leanings of Lil Peep or Lil Xan and re-casts them in a fascinating and far more interesting dissection of masculinity and mental health. Ryan, both as a producer and a lyricist, is the foremost player in this movement, and whatever happens next he will be key to how Scotland’s hip-hop scenes and aesthetics develop.

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The back third of the album sees Meraki delving into sex and relationships - portraying them as yet another way of trying to avoid or overcome grief and sadness on True Friends and Fuck Me and Leave Me (also a sly metaphor for drug addiction). The penultimate track, Kill Me (with Spawn Zero), sees Ryan acknowledge both his growth as an artist, and the contrary impulse to self destruct. It’s a powerful finish, redolent with static and overpitched, echoing goth-trap pianos. The album returns to 2.32am’s sonics on the coda 2.33am - the Carpenter-esque synth stabs make a reappearance as Meraki delivers a final furious, doubletime verse. It’s a suitably paranoid, edgy finish - and is enough of a banger to tempt you to simply hit play, and listen to the whole album again.

With its icy hooks and earworm lyrics, where MVCC’s TIFA may be an album that you find yourself playing more often, Why It Bothers Me… is arguably an even more complex and rewarding listen. Ryan’s flows are harder to unpack - they wobble and stagger drunkenly in places, overlapping and distorting, but the truths and lies they uncover are just as compelling. Combined with this album’s grungy, lived-in, hedonistic aesthetic, they eventually prove just as unforgettable. In a competition for homegrown hip-hop album of 2018, it would be near impossible to slip a Rizla paper between these two.

Why It Bothers Me… is a staggering achievement from a rapper-producer who deserves to be feted amongst the nation’s best-known musicians. Keep an eye on King Meraki, or Kid Robotik, or whatever guise Ryan chooses to don next. He’s top echelon, and as he sets out to prove on this album, not to be fucked with.

Stream / Buy the album from Subfriction:  subfrictionrecords.bandcamp.com/album/why-it-bothers-me-i-cant-sleep

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