A riveting, often moving, return from the smash-hit rapper...

Will the real Fredo please stand up?

The Queens Park rapper found success with a string of rugged street bangers, such as the phenomenal Young T & Bugsey aided ‘Ay Carumba’. 2020, though, saw his work veer into more insubstantial climes – take the Marmite, nursery rhyme rooted ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’.

New album ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ finds the rapper hauling down the barriers between him and his audience, playing it straight and allowing his music to do the talking. Reflections on childhood trauma, experiences with prison, and the pressures of his rise all come to the fore, on a mature, reflective, and surprisingly moving document.

‘Funky Friday’ cohort Dave – credited as Santan – assists on Executive Production, and his assured touch undoubtedly helps the material to breath a little. Features – when they are used – only ever enhance Fredo’s art, such as Summer Walker’s golden turn on ‘Ready’ or bars from the late Pop Smoke.

Thematically, the album cuts close to the bone. ‘Blood In My Eyes’ is the song of a survivor wrestling with his conscience, while ‘Aunt’s Place’ touches on the role family has played in his life. Unafraid to touch on mental health and the lingering impact that trauma can have, ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ strips down the braggadocio – which Fredo has admittedly played up to in the past – to offer a stark portrait of life as a young Black male in Britain today.

‘Back To Basics’ offers eerie production, the sound of drill rattling through an echo chamber; ‘Spaghetti’ revolves around ghost-like notes of piano; ‘Money Talks’ - Dave’s sole appearance in front of the mic – subverts those rolling trap snares, its dub-like effects and low-end saturation conjuring feels of absence and melancholy.

Indeed, it’s the sonic details that really allow ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ to reach that higher level. To heft a cliché, it’s a true headphone listen – the sheer accuracy of the studio effects, the subtlety of the arrangements, all build to enhance Fredo’s bars, containing intricate messages of personal truth.

Perhaps his most focussed, revealing statement to date, ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ is packed with detail. Fredo has never been so open, and this frankness is at first shocking – it’s a world away from his singles, for instance – but it also feels vital, and important. ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’ is our most vivid portrait yet of Fredo’s soul.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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