Smoke Boys, formerly known as Section Boyz, are indisputably one of the UK’s most impactful and biggest rap collectives. They broke through the UK top 40 with their mixtape, Don’t Panic, at a time when mainstream music industry was tentative to welcome what they called “urban music.” This unwelcoming condition was coupled with the general weariness for Drill, the genre many unfairly labelled as the cause for crime amongst London black boys.
Songs like Lock Arff, Trapping Ain’t Dead and Delete My Number were soundtracks of 2015 – 2017 and the UK’s burgeoning drill genre. It’s impossible to not mention them when debating the growth of the UK scene in the middle of the last decade with their iconic Village Underground show where Drake came out and shook the room – literally. But the group’s legacy is marred with what could have been. Copyright issues, Reeko leaving the group and a music sabbatical mean that even before this release, we already started to speak about Smoke Boys with a nostalgic tone. The announcement of them disbanding, although sad for many fans, felt like a natural next step.
On All The Smoke, the boys partner with MK the Plug to offer us 10 tracks with varied production. Each song is explosive, with every member delivering witty word play and punchy flows, but nothing seems to stick. It’s impossible not to listen to this mixtape with a sentimental ear, waiting to hear a beat that’ll invigorate you and transport you back to 2015 Smoke Boys.
On Justin Bieber, they have a rare feature from one of the Uk’s pioneers, Dizzee Rascal. This inter-generational link up looks like an odd pairing in the track list but it works – like really works. Justin Bieber is a perfect marriage of old school grime and drill. Each of them flows effortlessly on the fast-paced garage-esque beat and high-hat drum clattering. Drill and Grime are often considered different ends of the musical spectrum but Da Boy in Da Corner and Smoke Boys shows how gracefully the two can be paired.
On Lives, they team up with Amsterdam rapper Sevin Allan. Sevin melds with Smoke Boys and the beat so easily, it’s easy to forget that he’s not a London native. This speaks to the impact of London’s diaspora and suggests that perhaps we are not as sonically disconnected from Europe as we thought.
It’s impossible to separate Smoke boys from the “what ifs” that plague their legacy. This final mixtape is a “hello again” and final "goodbye" from one of the Uk’s most impactful groups over the last decade. It takes elements from what made their sound so gripping, and experiments with sounds we may hear from them as soloists after they part ways. Although this is the last time we’ll hear from Smoke Boys as a collective, their style will be replicated for years to come and their name will endure.