10 Debut Albums We Need In Our Lives

Words: James Keith

Earlier in the year, TRENCH contributing editor Yemi Abiade explained that 2018 was proving to be a banner year for albums, at least within black British music. The occasionally overlapping realms of grime, UK rap, jazz, R&B and soul were all starting to produce some stunning albums that we’d all been waiting on for quite some time. But not every scene is popping as much as it should and some are sorely lacking in terms of longer projects to flesh out their respective scenes. There are certain corners of UK music that could do with a breath of fresh air that only an album can.

“In today’s streaming age,” Abiade explained, “artists are more inclined to abandon this formula, choosing to drop big track after big track to increase their streams and pocket. The scene, in a sense, suffers as a result because it prohibits the forwarding of the truly groundbreaking bodies of work that these artists’ albums could potentially be. This is not to say big singles don’t do this, but an album’s impact on a style of music is far more deductible than a single. The Beatles consistently put out classic albums, and they altered the face of modern popular music in a way that is still felt in 2018.” Even grime, a genre marked out for its immediacy (singles often drop out of nowhere and the priority is always high energy) has even lent itself well to the longer album format. Of course, the likes of Kano, Wiley and Skepta (and others) have been putting out albums almost from day one, but as recent as this year, Novelist was putting forward his own definition of what a grime album could be.

For a while, it was suggested that streaming and the Power Of The Playlist would wipe out the album format. That, however, does not seem to be the case. If anything, streaming—and the way streaming and sales figures are now calculated—seems to have had the opposite effect. While Kanye’s out here knocking out six tracks and calling it an album, Drake, Migos and Chris Brown are filling their long-players with 30 tracks or more. Why? Because 10 streaming plays equal one sale. So, if someone listens to your 30-track endurance test just once, congratulations! Because you just sold three albums. Fortunately, that seems to be the extreme of the situation and most artists seem to have settled on the fact that, actually, 12 rock-solid tracks take rather a lot of time to put together and that in the longer term, an album of 12 gems will probably leave you with a much better legacy than 30+ B-sides that should’ve stayed on the cutting room floor. So, as always, the universe has found a way of balancing itself out once more.

I had a think, tore my hair out and lost some sleep over confining this list to just 10 names. We may get our wishes with a few of the artists on the list, but for now, think of this as more of a hypothetical wish list. We don’t necessarily need them to drop an album this year, or even next year, but we do need them at some point.


Since his 2017 debut single “Party Here”, South London rapper Octavian’s spent 2018 building up an admirable reputation in UK rap. The term “alt-rap” could be loosely applied to Octavian’s lyrically adventurous output, but don’t expect him to stay in the underground for long. Less than a year since that debut and he’s already caught the attention of Drake (who quoted a line from “Party Here” on his Instagram in January) and the respect of UK rap heads up and down the country. Though he’s only got five tracks on his Spotify and a handful more on his SoundCloud, Octavian has already made an indelible impression on UK hip-hop. And let’s not forget he has the whole Essie crew to call on for inspiration, features and collaboration.

More than any of that, Octavian’s rhymes tell the story of growing up in London with very little to your name. French-born and raised in London, in just 22 years, Octavian has racked up more than his share of experiences to pour into his music. Having been kicked out of the family home at 15, he was then homeless and spent much of his late teens doing whatever he had to do to survive and keep himself fed. For that reason alone, Octavian is the voice of a Britain many of us would prefer to believe doesn’t exist.


Honestly, when putting together this list I did think it was important to only look at artists who have a decent amount of music under their belt and try to avoid artists with an unreasonable level of hype around them. In the case of the former, I had to bend the rules and include Flohio. The weapons grade lyricist only has a handful of tracks to her name; two very attention-seizing God Colony collabs (“SE16” and “Steady”), a feature on L-Vis 1990’s 12 Thousand Nights mixtape and two tracks of her own (“Bands” and last month’s “Watchout”). Those four tracks were released in as many years, but the astonishing quality of them more than earns her a spot on the list.

Of course, with just a few tracks, we’re only scratching the surface of what the South Londoner’s capable of. The sheer density of her lyrics, the complexity of her writing hint at an artist bursting at the seams with possibility and a hell of a lot to say. It would also be difficult to predict exactly how a Flohio album would send. Conscious, drill, trap or something more experimental, what little we’ve already seen of Flohio has already let us know she could do any of these and more. Obviously, this is all conjecture, but when a debut album does come, it won’t be short of surprises.


Another artist with a few EPs under his belt is London producer Hagan. After a consistent string of releases since 2011, last year we were treated to the Roots EP, a release that introduced us to a reinvigorated Hagan, one whose palette had expanded enormously, championing all manner of Afro-centric sounds from afrobeats to gqom through a bass-heavy collection that built on the UK funky sounds of his earlier releases. That was followed up with “Ashanti Riddim” and the Yenkyi EP this year. The whole EP, from the dizzying rhythms of opener “Volta” to the late night atmospherics of “Asantewaa”, suggested the young producer is more than ready to explore a longer format.

With all this renewed energy and creativity, the timing couldn’t be better for Hagan to release a debut album. Up until now, the vast majority of his productions have been instrumental, but we’d really love to see what he could do with some vocalists in the booth. Couple that with the just how adventurous the Yenkyi EP was and we could very well have an album that marries atmospherics, songwriting and club bangers in a wholly original way.

Big Zuu

Many of Big Zuu’s contemporaries—Jammz, Novelist, Capo Lee and the like—have either put out debut albums or explored longer formats, but the largest project we’ve had from Zuu is his self-titled six-tracker from last year. Whether it’s in freestyles, studio tracks or radio sets, Zuu more than anyone has proved how much depth he has as a lyricist. His “Xenophobia” freestyle from earlier this year arrived like a lightning bolt with its political fury and incisive commentary.

What’s more, Zuu has the range of skills needed to fill out a 10 or 12-track release. An ideal Big Zuu album could hold within it reloadable bangers, political breakdowns, some introspection, even some kitchen-related skits would be welcome inclusions. Grime’s drawing a lot of criticism at the moment and Big Zuu more than most is perfectly positioned to silence the critics with a blockbuster album of creative and original music.

Naira Marley

Although Afro-centric music has experienced enormous popularity in the UK in the last couple of years, there haven’t been too many albums. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; scenes and the artists within them need time to establish themselves and work out the blueprint, and a premature album could very easily misjudge the future directions of a scene. Still, eventually the standard bearers need to lead the charge, and who better than Peckham-based Naira Marley?

Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Marley is “Issa Goal”, his signature tune that wound up becoming the unofficial anthem song for Nigeria’s Herculean efforts in this year’s World Cup. Clearly, he has what it takes to tap into those moments that touch us all and create an anthem from it. His singles and collaborations this year have shown us there’s a wealth of creativity inside of him. With his wavy, melodic sound he’s also got a more than respectable chance of taking the Afro-centric UK sound internationally.


Mez is one of the few artists on this list who’s already started to explore longer format releases. 2015’s 28 EP, the M1 EP from the following year, and then this year’s Tyrone EP gave us plenty of examples of what the Nottingham sprayer can do when he has a few tracks and a bit of space to work with. Pages and pages and pages have already been written about his one-off, intergalactic flow, so we won’t gas on about it too much, but you’ve heard what he can do in a long radio set, imagine what he could do with some hand-picked producers and all the time in the world. It would also be a prime opportunity to hear a voice from outside London put the kind of stamp on the grime scene that only an album could.


Born in Bermuda, raised in Sheffield and Scotland, even Bassette’s upbringing is unique. It’s also given her a truly international sound (Note: international, not American) and one that is giving British R&B a bit of a shake-up. Her emergence last year with “Suffocating”, “Bermuda” and two versions of “Boys With Guitars” came like a rapid-fire series of mission statements. “Suffocating” was a slow-burning but deeply soulful debut with a minimalist yet grandiose production behind it. Then came “Boys With Guitars”, one version featuring US rapper IshDARR and one with Ms. Banks. Already we were being treated to a new side of Bassette, one that introduced bleeding edge rap into her blend of jazz, R&B and soul with immediate success. Then, in “Bermuda”, arguably her biggest track yet. Produced by Joe Hertz, “Bermuda” should, by rights, have smashed up the Top 40. It was also one of her most club-appropriate tracks.

In short, no two Bassette songs sound the same. In just a little over a year, Bassette has already demonstrated breathtaking versatility, taste and presence on a track. Her voice is immediately recognisable, but it’s not just sheer power or individuality that sets her apart. Like some of the other artists on this list, her knack for picking producers and collaborators will lay the perfect foundation for the album. Most importantly, however, her potential isn’t confined to the underground. “Bermuda” in particular was a shining example of how gifted she is at writing infectious, catchy songs with huge chart potential and, crucially, unquestionable credibility.

Nubya Garcia

Saxophonist Nubya Garcia first appeared on our radars at the tail end of last year with the stunning 5ive EP, a six-track collection that kicked off with stand-out creation and project opener “Lost Kingdom”. Like the rest of the EP, it was a wild, unpredictable and exhilarating showcase of what jazz could be, what it should be. As we’re all no doubt aware, jazz is experiencing an enormous resurgence at the minute and a large part of that is down to Nubya Garcia who so far has walked a very fine line between cerebral experimentation and emotive compositions that strike you right at your very core.

We would always encourage any and every artist to take their time with their career paths. We’d never suggest someone should make an album before they’re ready, but Garcia is such a prodigious talent those four, five and six-track releases just aren’t enough. With Nubya’s 5ive, at six songs, it felt cut short. It felt as if she was trying to compress her art and herself into too short a format. With 12 tracks (hell, even eight would give her bags more space), Nubya could do something that could change not just the face of jazz, or even jazz in the UK, but music as a whole.

Lil Silva

Lil Silva’s exploration of the boundaries between the club and the soul has been showing a lot of promise for some time now. His recent collaboration with Chip and Sampha, “Darth Vader”, proved resoundingly how adept he is when working within the confines of the chorus-verse-chorus format. Given a different environment and some different parameters, Lil Silva is capable of some pretty huge things. And it could be so varied. His club productions alone have swept through countless areas of the UK underground. Hip-hop, house music, grime, bass music, UK funky and more have all wormed their way into his sonic palette over the years. Just imagine the territories he could explore with all that extra space.

Roses Gabor

The 10th and final name on our list is someone whose debut album, we believe, wouldn’t just reinvigorate any one scene, it would go absolutely stratospheric. Roses Gabor may have been quiet lately, but her recent output has managed to surpass what were already very memorable early singles. Perhaps best known for her vocal contribution to SBTRKT’s “Pharaohs”, Roses Gabor spent much of the next few years putting out a string of singles and collaborations until she went a little quiet on us.

This year, however, she returned with the electric “Illusions”, a joint effort with production genius and Mercury winner Sampha. Where those first few singles, particularly 2012’s “Stars” and “Rush” from 2014, had a somewhat haunting edge to them, “Illusions” is a more upbeat affair. Her vocals are still as rich and textured as ever, but 2018 Roses Gabor sounds even more full of life and power than ever. If anything, it slightly harked back to “Pharaohs” with the nimble way her voice dances over the snappy, colourful production.

What all this tells us is that Roses Gabor has everything she needs and more to put together a career-defining debut album: she’s just as comfortable with singing ballads as she is club bangers, she’s got the songwriting ability and creative vision, and she’s one of the best in the game when it comes to picking producers. Even if she just worked with past collaborators, imagine an album produced by Shy FX, Sampha, SBTKRT, Scratcha DVA and Redlight.

Posted on August 16, 2018