Bar Exam: Guvna B – Hands Are Made For Working (Album)
A One Listen Album Review
The well acclaimed British rapper Guvna B just recently dropped his album “Hands are Made For Working.” It clocks in at 13 tracks and just under 50 minutes of music. The cover art includes what appears to be a family picture. I imagine this to be meaningful to the artist and it gives some anticipation to hearing what this could be about. I’ve had this project marked on my calendar for quite some time. Let’s go.
“Carry On” featuring Samm Henshaw begins with some muted drums and a solemn piano vibe. Interesting to hear the hiss of a microphone right before Guvna’s first words are uttered.
“On the eighteenth of July two thousand and seventeen/three a.m. I was asleep/Wifey intervened and said you’re brother’s on the phone wake up/Took the iPhone… hi bro I beg you say something this don’t feel right so/He told me daddy’s on life support/Got us sayin we need to come in/Hung up the phone and started rushin’/Wifey wanted to come but I told her stay behind/Didn’t wanna believe that anything could happen to my favorite guy but she came anyway/typical/she rides when it’s difficult…”
He paints a word picture here right off the bat. Abandoning rhymes for depth of story, he tells about the day his father passed away. “Even though we had good times/I couldn’t even say goodbye”
This is a tough song to throw at the listener straight off the bat, but it’s incredibly heartfelt and emotional. The song turns into a prayer at the end. Asking God for help in recovery from grief for his family. Samm Henshaw drops some crooning vocals that can bring tears to your eyes. The last verse has Guvna B reminiscing on wisdom his father shared. He told him to not ever give up and “Hands are made for workin.” What a marvelous kick off to an album.
Track two starts off a little more upbeat with a synth loop, then a piano lick laying over it. Guvna comes in along with some deep bass-heavy synth beds. “Moms told me work twice as hard.” Unexpectedly for me the beat kicks in about 4 bars in. This is magnificent.
“Grew up on Kano and Santana/My dad said ‘son you’ll never wear a bandana”/I didn’t work this hard for you to be a gang banger”
God’s got us. We’re worth more than what life can throw at us. The hook is hard, and the handoff between that and the verse is great. The instrumental behind the performance ebbs and flows with the intensity he brings to the track. Guvna even throws a nice melody on the outro.
The next track, “Been Hustlin'” has a quick sound byte at the top that I’m unfamiliar with. Shortly after, Guvna B’s singing the hook.
“We been hustlin/That’s a word/Different jobs get it in/Daddy where you been?”
Guvna goes in on the idea of chasing money or chasing purpose. While he may have grown up privileged, there’s more to life. Early on his flow is slow paced and he’s easily storytelling of what life was like growing up. All in this one song, however, Guvna shows versatility by switching it up and spitting fast paced over the top of the beat, and he even rolls off a more laid back and unorthodox flow for the last verse. I love his comparison to how he used to see life compared to how he witnesses life now. He entails all of what success truly means, and it reminds me of how when we were boys we’d think like boys, but now that we’ve matured we know the truth. “Never compare yourself with anyone cuz God has plans for you.”
“Everyday” has an intro that reminds me of a kung fu movie. Once more, Guvna tells of how tough things have been since his father died. He comes at it in a personal way, explaining how he understands the struggle of life. Regardless, he’s thankful everyday. He moves on talking about crashing his car, losing faith and self esteem. “I don’t just thank God in the good times blood I thank Him when it go south.” Another Above the Bar track.
Flying Above The Bar
After how big the previous song was, this next tune “Cast your Cares” carefully transitions us out of that with a nice piano at the top. I love the intentional decrescendo out of that moment. Guvna B shares his heart with a worship chorus. “Cast your cares on His shoulders/cast your cares on his light.” The verse to follow is an introspective psalm from the hip-hop artist. Guvna B is dealing with his brokenness and the fragility of life before our very ears.
“The storms might come but He’ll never leave/take His word He’ll forever be/Source of strength when we’re running out of energy/Place your cares on His shoulders/The remedy/He’ll give you strength that is needed for every task/I know He’s on our side and that’s everything/In the past He has lead us even through the dark/Anything we need we can ask”
Another emotional moment on the project, but it grows to more than the somber cries of a heart. It moves to choral piece, which is outstanding. This track leaves you in a hopeful state and points you to the true source of love, hope and strength. The most remarkable part of this is that the song is over five and a half minutes, and I was in on it the whole way. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you should know that it’s difficult for me to feel like a song ever needs to be that long. The direction of this song was air tight though, and Guvna had a goal and a place he wanted to lead us. He took us there in a powerful way.
Up next is “All I Ever Wanted” featuring Martin Smith. The intro for this song uses some chipmunk samples that are chopped up. Once the bass line kicks in though we’re back to Guvna’s aggressive flow. Man… his words are so pointed there are numerous gems in the lines he’s saying. “They say death is easy/that’s because life is hard.” The soundscape of this track is very appealing. For the hook, Martin Smith does his thing, but these samples are swimming around him causing you to hang on every second of it. Guvna again shows versatility and switches into a melody. “Good intentions don’t save me/the gates of heaven await me/but I’m scared I won’t make it.”
The next track is an interlude with Jimi Cravity. Much like Jackie Hill-Perry’s “Maranatha,” Guvna goes off here with the anaphora “How Long.” Interesting enough, I’m finding a lot of similarities between Guvna and Jackie’s projects. Probably just the choice to incorporate gospel music. Regardless, it’s fantastic to hear such great CHH lately.
Track eight, “Dun All the Hype” featuring Melvillous is a great example of CHH grime. Since grime started taking over, I’m not sure I’ve heard it crossover into CHH too often. Here it works perfectly. I’m so glad Guvna B exists. This music is exceptional and it hits me at so many levels. Not only is the production Above the Bar, his pen game is at a master level, and the personality that’s shown on every track is inspirational. Melvillous’s flow on this track is fire too. This is a big track.
A huge brass section greets us at the beginning of “Aight Boom.” Right as the grime beat kicks in again, Guvna B just twists all over it. This track is absolutely hench. I’m not sure I’ve heard an instrumental quite like this (except “Big For Your Boots”), and his hook here is spectacular. This one begs to be repeated.
“Fairytales” starts with a lot of waves of synths layered over each other. The samples repeat a bit, and a club type beat swells in. While the music may be a bit more laid back, Guvna spits at a rapid pace over it. The hook here is a bit of a road bump for me. It takes some of the energy out of this section of the album. However, just when I thought I beginning to lose energy, the second verse happened.
Small Road Bump
With the song “Broken,” Guvna B has help on the simple hook from Elle Limebear. Guvna comes at this beat with the idea that everyone is healing, and when the struggle can bring you down you can still find hope. The music is pretty upbeat with some pop influence. I like it though. It might not be for everyone though I admit. It morphs into a heavy pop tune, reminding me of Sia.
The next song uses a sample from the song “King of My Heart” by John Mark McMillan. A really nice nod to the worship tune, recasting that musicality with a hip-hop beat underneath it. I feel like you can have this song on the project without that heavy pop moment on the previous track. Once again, the intentional direction of the art helps with the fluidity of the listening experience.
With the final song, “Summer In The Streets,” Guvna begins with a heavy concept. “God when you ready come take me away/I ain’t really scared of death no more.” He continues along that lines detailing his suicidal thoughts and his struggles in the past year. I’m reminded of Revelation 21, and that’s what he’s alluding to. Guvna knows there’s gonna be better times ahead with no tears and no pain.
This was a terrific listen. Guvna B is firing on all cylinders here, and touches on some deep topics. It’s a worshipful album, it’s honest and heartfelt, and has some bangers on it as well. I’d also say that this is an album that could help those listeners who may be going through some trouble in life. Guvna B shows that he’s been there, and can point you to Jesus.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar