Album reviews: KSI – All Over the Place and Willow – Lately I Feel Everything

KSI finesses his reputation as a rapper on a genre-skipping second album, while Willow Smith makes a captivating return as an emo-pop star

<p>KSI’s new album is a bumper-to-bumper blending of genres buoyed along by some of music’s major-leaguers</p>

KSI’s new album is a bumper-to-bumper blending of genres buoyed along by some of music’s major-leaguers

KSIAll Over the Place

★★★

There’s a handful of reasons you may have encountered KSI. Long-time fans will remember him as a 15-year-old kid uploading videos of himself playing Fifa to YouTube, where he has since amassed more than 30 million subscribers. Or it could be thanks to his hugely hyped boxing match against rival YouTuber Logan Paul in 2019. It’s less likely that you’ll know KSI as a rapper.

That being said, the Hertfordshire-born artist – real name Olajide Olatunji – has been chipping away at the musical side of things for some time now. The most promising of these efforts came last year with his solo album Dissimulation, a surprisingly good debut from someone bearing the omen of “Youtuber-turned-rapper”. KSI’s second record All Over the Place is more of the same, in the sense that it, too, is a bumper-to-bumper blending of genres buoyed along by some of music’s major-leaguers.

There are highlights on the album, for sure. As with Dissimulation, KSI does well to allow his collaborators to come in and do what they do best in their respective styles. “Silly” is a confidently swaggering grime track featuring Bugzy Malone. Anne Marie injects some levity plus a sing-along hook into “Don’t Play With Me”. And it’s very easy to see the nostalgic Craig David dance track “Really Love” playing on repeat this summer.

At times, though, All Over The Place flails in the absence of a singular distinct voice. Portions of the album feel anonymous – a mushy amalgamation that sounds vaguely like all trap-pop in the charts right now. Still, it’s significant that KSI – a relative newcomer who has successfully flipped billions of video views into millions of Spotify streams – holds his own among his many, many collaborators. KSI sounds like a musician. He may be able to drop that “YouTuber” prefix from his name after all.

Willow – Lately I Feel EVERYTHING

★★★★☆

Back in 2014, Willow Smith and her brother Jaden gave a mind-melting interview in which they discussed everything from theoretical physics to “prana energy”. She’s clearly into the idea of reincarnation, too. On her rollicking new album, Lately I Feel EVERYTHING, she’s killed off her 2019 psychedelic soul persona and returned as an emo-pop star.

At first, it might seem like Smith is jumping on a trend led by teenage stars Olivia Rodrigo and Meet Me at the Altar. But her love for this genre runs deep – at school she was bullied for listening to Paramore and My Chemical Romance. “Gaslight” is a breathless joyride that unleashes frustration on a potential romantic partner for sending mixed signals. “Grow” is all crashing symbols (an emo-punk staple) and thrashy guitars – there’s even a guest appearance from pop-punk queen herself, Avril Lavigne. Other influences creep in: Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” lingers in the background of the sultry “Don’t Save Me”, while “Breakout” is pure White Stripes, replete with chugging guitar hook and Smith’s squalling Jack White impersonation.

Critics have complained that Smith’s earlier albums don’t reveal much more than we already know about the daughter of Hollywood superstars Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith. While I think female artists are often penalised for trying to maintain an artistic level of mystique (Prince and Bowie didn’t have this problem), Smith’s new record does feel like her most personal. Her lyrics have a stream-of-consciousness style, as though she’s in the middle of composing a message to a friend or partner. The delight she takes in performing these songs is palpable. I hope this incarnation of Smith sticks around a little longer.

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