Search The Line of Best Fit
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V V Brown goes rhythmic and rogue on Am I British Yet?

"Am I British Yet?"

Release date: 27 October 2023
VV Brown Am I Black British cover
31 October 2023, 09:00 Written by Quentin Harrison

When V V Brown issued Glitch (2015), her third studio album, she was at the height of her powers.

Emboldened by the experimental tenor of its predecessor Samson & Delilah (2013), Brown ventured further into the icy, recherché pop realm she’d constructed. Given her origins as an eclectic wunderkind with Traveling Like the Light (2009)—her major label debut on Island Records – Brown’s spirited stylism wasn’t surprising, but the scope of her ambition was.

Said ambition often ran afoul of the charts; ultimately, the British-born and reared singer-songwriter opted to depart from Island and establish her own imprint (YOY) to host the aforementioned Samson & Delilah and Glitch. And while Brown built a strong cult following and attracted handsome critical notices, the neverending industry hustle wore on her.

In 2017, she took an indefinite hiatus from music but kept busy. Brown fielded personal and professional milestones: marriage, children, lecturing, column writing, et cetera. Still that siren call of writing and recording – as well as the endless socio-political paroxysms in that same interval – stirred Brown. It took an email exchange with friend and tunesmith Justin “Sensible J” Smith two years prior to ignite that creative flame once again.

From that digital back and forth emerged the roiling gospel groove of “Black British,” arguably, the centerpiece of Brown’s current offering Am I British Yet? Similar to how she used “The Apple” (the launchpoint of Samson & Delilah) a decade ago to firmly break with what had come before, so it is with this lead single now.

The scripting and design of Am I British Yet? is primarily masterminded by Smith and Brown with laser-like focus across an expanse of 18 cuts that has the sprawl of a double album, but with a brisker pace. Stephen “Professor Green” Manderson, Liam Bailey and Alyssa “Amroun” Proffitt provide additional collaborative input.

“Break of the Night” opens the set with Brown in fiery spoken word mode over a propulsive drumline seamed with a cheering crowd loop. The track immediately establishes the tonal pulse of her fourth long player. Brown carries on, spanning a wealth of dimensional sounds; notable excursions in electronic R&B, alternative soul, folk-funk fusion – via “Marginalised,” “Twisted” and “No Fear” (a duet with Liam Bailey) respectively – are stunningly realized.

Previous sonic mediums Brown has worked in, to name some, include new wave, industrial and trip-hop. That she uses these fresh materials as compellingly as those old ones isn’t surprising, it speaks to her shapeshifting abilities as a true pop genre great. What’s more, Brown is a vocal chameleon on Am I British Yet? From her tempest-like pose on the thundering “Philosophy” to the slinky, hip-hop cadence imparted on “Swallowing My Pride,” Brown is a skilled singer aware of the many colors and textures her instrument possesses.

But what of the lyrics affixed to these dynamic pieces and performances?

On previous affairs, Brown pondered the mores of contemporary womanhood or engaged in avant-garde storytelling; this time, Brown drills down on the experiences – past, present and future – of Black Britons. Threads of history, identity, gender, sexual orientation, and more are woven into the narrative loom of Am I British Yet? where she gives equal space for frustration, reflection and celebration. Going a step further, Brown invites several artists (recording or otherwise) to share their stories on thematic vignettes interspersed amid the songs: “I Will Always Be Black” (Derome), “Let Us Remember” (Veronica E. Banks), “Am I British Yet?” (Liam Bailey), “Generations” (Alyssa “Amroun” Proffitt), “Go Back” (Myrle E. Roach), “Jamaica” (Ron Frater).

Brown contributes “Feels So Alive” and “Inhale” to the vignette cache. The former has her extolling personal family ties to the Windrush Generation, whereas the latter finds her revisiting her career path (thus far) in retrospect through the Black female lens. The words comprising all the selections on Am I British Yet? are the beating heart of this collection.

“Be alive in your blackness / Be true in your blackness / Be you in your blackness / Be black in your blackness / I rip the mask off that has been suffocating me.” This line, extracted from “Inhale,” best summarizes the focused rebellion of Am I British Yet? This album not only heralds the return of a singular talent in contemporary popular music, it’s the demonstration of art actioning change in real-time.

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