Dutchavelli: Dutch from the 5th review – drill trailblazer gets deep

2020 is going Dutch. The east London drill rapper – and brother of Stefflon Don – assisted Tion Wayne and Stormzy to make I Dunno a contender for UK rap anthem of the year, and this debut mixtape is the victory lap. It restarts a career that began back in 2016 but was derailed by robbery and firearms charges, as he was held on remand and later acquitted. With the production values of a studio album, Dutch from the 5th takes drill into new, promising territory, with Dutchavelli’s writing offering a rounded, context-rich perspective on the road life he came from.

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The production is ominous and evocative; chilling soundscapes that reflect the bleakness of Dutchavelli’s writing. Kaka is elevated with an eerie electric guitar riff that feels lifted from a dystopian 80s film, while Skr on Em features a Ray BLK guest vocal that conjures memories of R&B-inspired UK rap features from the 2000s – think Giggs’s Blow Em Away featuring Shola Ama – but with a cadence only found in south London.

His own voice is guttural throughout, and against the backdrop of those haunting beats, Dutchavelli knows how – and mostly when – to use it to say things that matter. At 26, he’s one of drill’s more mature MCs and that’s keenly felt as he speaks about learned experiences and mistakes he’s made. “She would’ve been there in my darkest moments / she would’ve been there at my highest heights / but I was tryna get rich off this China white,” he raps on Darkest Moments.

These moments of fragility are fleeting; the tape is bloated by tracks such as Surely and S Road Bop that provide jumpy, vibrant tempos but feel removed from his central observational position. They do offer balance though, and arguably make the moments of deeper reflection hit harder, including plainspoken details like those on Never Really Mine: “Didn’t wanna see me in Pentonville … I was on the run when I slept on your floor, told me you never wanna see me go back.” Dutchavelli’s tone is nuanced: pensive but not regretful, a man who can’t change the past but now wants more out of life.

Across the tape as a whole, he cuts through the imaginative production with a commanding yet empathic presence. After numerous stops and starts, a potentially major UK rap talent is finally up and running.