M Huncho and Nafe Smallz have spent the last couple of years traversing the British rap scene as solo artists, scoring starry collaborations with the likes of Skepta and Headie One, and occasionally working together. Their debut joint album, DNA (an abbreviation of Da New Age) only features a couple of brief guest spots from Young Adz and Yxng Bane, and is more potent for it, fully harnessing the chemistry these two regular collaborators have previously displayed in smaller bursts. They deploy Auto-Tune, echo and other studio chicanery to form soulful, bionic trap-rap tunes, as pretty as rain-drenched urban landscapes under street light.
Huncho – from north London and never seen without a mask to hide his identity – offers full-bodied vocal tones, while Luton’s Smallz boasts a higher-pitched flow. DNA features quick transitions between the pair, their voices fitting together like pieces of a puzzle. And both rap elegantly throughout: on Changed, Huncho exhibits his vocal dexterity, speeding up his flow before stretching out into a more melodic style in one smooth movement.
The lyrics are occasionally poignant: “Nothin’ nice, council house, no curtains / All my life, lookin’ for my purpose,” raps Smallz on the inner-city noir of 5AM. But the subject matter rarely expands beyond the familiar topics of sex, drugs and making money, and the duo mostly fail to locate fresh angles on these themes. It makes the writing flavourless for long spells, and puts Huncho and Smallz in the shade of similarly tuneful artists such as Young Thug. Still, company suits them: DNA is sleek and confident, and Huncho and Smallz’s repartee is the sound of two clear talents elevating each other’s performance to the next level in real time.