It’s honestly a surprise that East London’s Unknown T is only on his first project. For a long time it seemed that he was the fresh faced talent in the right place at the right time. Making his debut in 2018, the Homerton MC proved that drill could be authentic, creative and different even as it started to crossover. Russ dropped Gun Lean, Loski dropped Forrest Gump and DigDat emerged with the Air Force remix, taking drill to new and unprecedented levels.
Unknown T was part of this wave of mainstream drill hits, as his debut single Homerton B charted at number 48.
However, T didn’t rest on his laurels; he went out of his way to prove that he wasn’t your average drill rapper, and in following singles like Throwback, Leave Dat Trap (which appears on the tape before us) and his features with WSTRN and OFB, he raised the bar for drill and dipped his toes in any musical style that would have him.
This debut project finally realises that potential - and it’s been a long wait, because just as he was in the right place at the right time for drill, he’s also been held back by being in the wrong place and time. Because for almost half of 2019, almost around a year to this day, he was arrested for an accused stabbing that ended with someone’s life fatally being taken too soon.
However, cleared of all charges this February, he got back to work and now presents us with his first tape, Rise Above Hate. And the question remains: has he caught up to where he’s left us last year?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is yes. Unknown T picks up exactly where he left off, raising the bar for UK drill with his unique style, rapid fire flows and his natural instinct for experimentation.
The words ‘Unique’ and ‘Unknown T’ will often be found near each other and if you’ve heard drill but not his voice, it’s not hard to understand why. Because even if he’s rapping over the most straightforward drill beat, T’s deep and melodic flow, eccentric annunciations, and even his trademark sunglasses and dance moves stick out like a sore thumb. And for some reason, it just works.
The best example for this is ‘Deh Deh’. It’s one of the singles from before the tape, and on this song T flips the meanest 800Hz beat into one of the catchiest drill songs this year, let alone on this mixtape. The hypnotic pianos gel perfectly with the reverb soaked effects and powerful bassline, while Unknown paints a dark picture of street violence, some even obscured from the painting by way of censors in the first verse.
But his flow is so liquid here, slowing down for the hook and speeding up for the verses, even bringing back the unforgettable melodies of the ‘Homerton B flow’ for a throwback. It reminds you that T is no amateur at drill, and that when it comes to flow he’s got to be at the top of the game.
This reminder is an essential one. Nearly half the tape is dedicated to pure drill and trap bangers, and there’s no complaints because of how comfortable he sounds on these beats. The intro Steppy, and other highlights in the Ghosty produced Prison and the Hargo produced Fresh Home (which was his first drop after being released from pen) are pure bangers, as Unknown T drops bars and tight flows about violence, trapping, and the pressures of being on the wrong side of the law.
However, the interesting thing about Rise Above Hate is that it starts off with drill but branches out into a whole different range of sounds for Unknown T to try his hand at, from afro-swing, borderline grime songs with Mortal Kombat and completely leftfield rap songs on Leave Dat Trap. The Tyrell 169 beat on Tug Boy is impressive for fusing drill sounds with a more Atlanta bounce, using punchy 808s instead of slides for the bassline. By the time you get halfway through, T has thrown drill out the window and tried his hand at singing girl tunes, by bringing in Young T and Bugsey for the afro swing banger Main Squeeze.
This song is a surprise vibe, with TSB’s catchy guitar melodies and vocal chops making for a wavy tune that the Nottingham artists drop a great hook to. It’s a song that will have you singing about imaginary Audemars all day.
However, following Main Squeeze and splitting the tape directly in half is the brief but powerful ‘Jail Call Skit’, a nice structural touch that sees Unknown T talking to his girl and describing the pressures of his incarceration. But then he takes us full R&B on SS Interlude, with a humble love song that forms the emotional centerpiece of the album. The guitars, chords and stunning background vocals all come together for a real heartwarming song.
This middle section of the album was ambitious, surprising, and completely out of left field, and I’m not sure another rapper could’ve pulled it off.
The ambition of this project is nothing without the producers that take it to the next level. FF heavyweights Ghosty and JB team up for 'Squeeze and Buss', while another ff producer rq4 produces the highly anticipated and highly delivering 'aven9ers' - featuring the full homerton roster of ko, v9, and unknown t. Remedee brings in the softer and more melodic sounds, and surprisingly its Remedee, and not a drill producer, who has the most placements on the album. and his contributions to the project do not go unnoticed.
There’s the previously mentioned SS Interlude and Leave Dat Trap from last year - a song that features an interesting and unique rap beat that Unknown T and AJ Tracey trade bars over. Personally, I’m glad it made the tracklist as it’s a great song.
Lastly, there’s LV, a collaboration with Young Adz that shows us Remedee’s take on drill, as he gives us a mellow and icy beat with sharp, melodic 808 slides that follow a completely different rhythm than you’d usually expect from a drill song. Add one of Adz’s more catchy verses in recent times, and a slower verse from Unknown T and this song makes for something different, exciting, and catchy as hell.
Overall, there’s a lot to like about this mixtape. From the great production, the bangers, the standout features and impressive range Unknown T shows, it’s a project that has a lot of replay value. it's not perfect - personally could've done without M Huncho's verse on addicts, but Highlights like Deh Deh, Fresh Home, LV and Avengers all shine and leave you asking for more.
It’s good to have him back, and it shows us that after a long hurdle, this is still just the beginning of a promising career for Unknown T. We could get a collaboration with Digga D, (and after the anthem that was Aven9ers) we could get a full Homerton mixtape - but for now this tape has definitely made its mark.
Check out our editor's YT review (Edrantsaboutmusic) on his channel: