Stay Sane

Stay Sane

“No one wants to hear a rapper showing off when the world’s struggling,” Ocean Wisdom tells Apple Music. “So I had to strip back a lot of the ‘rapper’ ego on this album. You’ve got to read the room. Everyone’s worried.” In 2014, the London-born, Brighton-raised MC’s debut single, “Walkin’”—a blistering one-take wonder recorded with no hook or ad-libs—earned him underground acclaim and the unofficial title of Fastest Rapper in the World (with 4.45 words per second, beating Eminem’s record of 4.31 words on “Rap God”). His potent blend of larger-than-life lyricism and a keenly inventive flow was further showcased across two albums and a mixtape, and cosigns from rap luminaries including Method Man and Dizzee Rascal followed just as rapidly as the rhymes. Then 2020 arrived and enforced a change of pace. “I’ll save the bangers for when we can all jump around and get together, but for now, everyone needs to keep their head screwed on,” he says of conceptualizing his third studio album, Stay Sane. Though standout feats of double-time excellence still materialize across the LP’s 14 tracks, the kid from the coast brilliantly expands his horizons to reflect times of great challenge and worry, and dispenses sage-like meditations on relationships (“Mondeo”), mental health ( “Achey Bones”), and the UK’s political landscape (“Drilly Rucksack”). “What am I going to do when everything is fine again and I look back on this time and I did nothing?” he explains. “If I didn't comment on the things that meant something to me and didn’t try and help people that look up to me, I wouldn’t be proud of that. So it had to be a serious, thought-provoking album.” Here, Ocean Wisdom talks us through Stay Sane, track by track. Gruesome Crime “This is probably the most technical song on this tape. It’s half love song and half plea, to a partner, to not turn me against my friends. It’s essentially a commentary on male pride and that weird energy that we go through when we’re in love, particularly when we’re younger. Also, listen out on the last verse: There’s this call and response within the hook, but the first time you hear it, there’s only the bare skeleton. When it loops back around later, it’s like the full story’s revealed. That’s because I wanted the track, and the story here, to feel like it was flowing out naturally.” Uneven Lives (feat. Maverick Sabre) “This is the explanation of what led to ‘Gruesome Crime.’ It’s the story of being in a relationship with someone and you both have very different circumstances from upbringing to family environment, but you’re in love and you’re trying to make it work. But if you keep clashing, then eventually someone’s going to be unfaithful. This is on some Star Wars shit—where episode two explains the events before the first one, and then it leads into the next song, which is a much more positive view of relationships.” Mondeo (feat. Frankie Stew & Harvey Gunn) “This is a really personal one. It’s about trying to do nice things for your partner without seeming like you’re trying to flex on them. Because when life changes, and you get money, you then want to enjoy all of that with people. But a lot of the real ones, they want to show that they’re not just down for the ride.” Burna Boy “One of my friends is serving a life sentence, and I still think about him a lot—of when we used to play football, and he’d always dive around holding his knee. He was a nice guy. And I think back to those times as innocent kids, and then to now, where society perceives me as doing really well and he is where he is. It’s mad. And now, of all people, he’s actually really supportive of my career. I wanted to touch on it because at times it feels like our culture glorifies things that lead him to where he’s at. And at the same age I was caught in it too, it just backfired for him.” Drilly Rucksack “A ‘drilly rucksack’ is essentially a gun in a bag. Even when you say ‘drill,’ that comes with certain connotations. But add a Y at the end and suddenly it’s very playful. I wanted to talk about something intense and fucked up but in a tongue-in-cheek and happy way. So you can lift the content of this track—put it over a drill beat, say it in a different tone, and then it would be violent. It’s kinda like trolling and I like doing it.” Shorty Gud “This is about a girl being good with her hands, quite simply. But at the same time, it’s a sick, high-energy tune that’ll get people gassed. I feel like it’s a nod to the old me. Well, me from my previous tapes.” Racists (feat. Novelist) “With racism, it’s almost like there’s this narrative that we need to educate people and save everyone from it. But if I was a kid, what I’d want to hear is: People are racist. They exist, and there’s nothing you can do about them. For them to even hold those beliefs in the first place, they’re a lost cause. Racists—they come and they won’t go. Accept that and try and enjoy the journey. Because if you hold your breath waiting for everyone to not be racist, you’re going to suffocate.” Good Girl “This one I made for my dad because he’s old-school. He was born and raised in Jamaica. I’m thinking of my earliest memories—at four years old, I’m at my godfather’s house, hella dreads everywhere and this kind of music playing. Those old-school kitchen riddims that I can imagine my dad skanking to. I nearly named the tune after him, but no one would get it. But every Jamaican that I’ve played it to so far, they’re like, ‘Oh, I see what’s going on here.’” Dragons (feat. Kojey Radical) “The first time I’ve been on a track and I haven’t really rapped. It’s a feel-good tune for the summer. And I’ve always wanted to release a song that felt like a chant, the whole way through. This fits the album really nicely, and, of course, Kojey comes through and blesses it. He’s one of my favorite artists, a super versatile and creative artist.” Open the Melon “I’ve got a whole section of fans who only want to hear me hyped, talking about beating people up over aggressive hip-hop beats—this is for those people. I stumbled across this instrumental, and it happened to serve those purposes. It’s hype and aggy, but the melody caters to this laidback vibe, too.” Don’t Speak “So at this point things are getting a bit darker now. I’m shifting further and further towards aggression. ‘I don’t wanna hear people talking shit’ is the basic gist of this one. And in a way, it’s setting the mood for ‘Hop Out.’” Hop Out (feat. Tim Vocals) “When Tim Vocals first came out [in 2012] and I discovered him, I felt like a big-label A&R; I was convinced he was going into the stratosphere. But I guess he really was about that [street] life, and it got in the way. He brings a legit pop sound but in gangster form, it’s crazy. It feels something like a Bruno Mars feature, with the way he sounds, the cleanness of his vocal.” Achey Bones “Here, I was thinking, ‘How can I best describe depression as a physical ailment?’ You can’t really perceive depression, but it’s there, and you know something’s not right. Achey bones, innit? They just weigh you down. When I say ‘stay sane’ at the end here, before the last chorus, it’s to reflect on loss and acknowledge that you can’t always be there to help everyone. Sometimes you’ve got to work on yourself or you’ll implode.” Can’t Breathe Either “There’s the 13 [tracks] helping me to stay sane, and then this one is the curveball. I’m stopping the show to say, ‘Everyone fucking listen to this. It’s important.’ It’s better than writing a sentence out or a status online. It does more—and it means more to me when I use my art. When everyone was saying stuff and posting pastel-colored [Instagram] reposts, I decided to address this the best way I can: musically. This fight [for equality] means so much to me, and it always will, so I save my opinions for the music.”

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