The masked rapper’s debut album is an exceptional world-builder, bleak yet glistening in its dystopian soundtrack to an instant classic.
There’s no British rapper as elusive as North London’s CASISDEAD. Faceless since his rebrand from Castro Saint, the mystique behind his story is what’s kept fans engaged, obtainable purely through the minimal output the ex-grime emcee puts out. His last full length effort came in 2014, drip-feeding singles over the last nine years close to strategic fashion. “Listen to the album,” he said in a recent rare interview. If the rapper’s to be believed, the answers lie in his long-anticipated debut album.
Imagination runs wild on Famous Last Words, generating a puzzling, addictive universe executed with precision by one of the nation’s most talented rappers.
Famous Last Words is both vivid and cryptic, a theatrical sci-fi adventure drowned in dreamy 80s synths courtesy of Stranger Things composer Kyle Dixon, alongside Johnny Jewel, MsM, Felix Joseph and more. It’s a starry-eyed escapade from the real world into something far worse, mired by addiction, control, self-indulgence, and dormant trauma.
Threaded throughout Famous Last Words is a dense narrative that makes for an ambitious concept album: a controlled dystopian society being fed Aghast 6, a drug inducing apathy in its subject, developed by a company called DeadCorp. Presumably, CAS is on this drug, indulging in its main symptoms—increased sexual appetite—throughout the album. The eight skits follow Alpha and Omega, two rebels who refuse to take the drug & aim to take down DeadCorp. The two stories never intersect but are vastly connected, just like a well-directed movie with an A-plot and B-plot. It speaks to CASISDEAD’s creativity and ability to pull off a concept album with such detail, to the point where websites and commercials exist for Apathy 6 detailing its symptoms.
The experience is packed with previously-released singles which still sound fresh amongst the album. Cult classic “Pat Earrings” lands a placement despite its eight-year age, as does “Before This”, “Traction Control” and “Boys Will Be Boys”. The La Roux collaboration “Park Assist” is dearly missed, and would’ve packed an appropriate punch.
Instead of grabbing trendy features, CAS works with alt artists to match his ambitions. The Connie Constance hook of “Marilyn” is a starry-eyed affair, married to the synthwave aesthetic like every other track. Desire duets with CAS on the moving “Actin’ Up”, while Kamio lays a raunchy hook on “Pineapple Juice”. The guest vocals feel methodical, all part of the puzzle Famous Last Words is building.
Apt to the album title, closing track “Skydive” featuring Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys reads as a death note. CAS bears the most personal verse of his career, potentially serving as a double meaning for his character dying from Apathy 6 and his rumoured real-life health battles. It is a powerful closer, bringing to a close to the bleak message of the album.
At every turn, the listener is presented with the most refreshing album UK rap’s had in years. Famous Last Words is an enthralling experience, maximising efforts, ambition and creativity. In a year where hip hop’s been under the fire for its lack of dominance, CASISDEAD shows the world how to beat the odds and grant an instant classic. Pay attention UK rappers, this the new bar.
9 / 10
Best tracks: “Pat Earrings”, “Marilyn”, “Actin’ Up”, “Venom”, “Skydive”, “Matte Grey Wrap”, “Boys Will Be Boys”, “Before This”