Olivia Rodrigo, DMX, Wolf Alice and more: June’s best album reviews | Music

Hip-hop has no shortage of redemption narratives. Bugzy Malone’s is ongoing. As recently as last year, the Manchester MC was charged with two counts of wounding – this, after many years spent boxing, rapping, then acting in Guy Ritchie movies in a largely successful effort to put a difficult past behind him. The 30-year-old still carries sufficient ferocity to have guested on the recent remix of Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ Body, the first UK No 1 for the drill subgenre.

To this stuttering redemption song Malone adds two more hooks. In the UK, grime and hip-hop have long been London-centric. The “King of the North” was the first to put Manchester in contention back in 2015 with a landmark Fire in the Booth radio freestyle. Manchester’s latest wunderkind, Aitch, has ridden the slipstream of Malone’s hard-hitting, dextrous flows.

More pertinently, though, last year Malone nearly died twice. Not from Covid: riding a quad bike without a helmet at 70mph, he made a very large dent in the side of a car. As he tells it on a track called MEN III, he woke up on the concrete with blood and feathers everywhere – his Moncler down jacket had burst. Weeks later, lying in hospital mending from a bleed on his brain, he felt a blood clot go into his lung.

So although it’s a little portentous – and some of this album’s production is over-swathed in scything strings and operatic backing vocals – Malone’s second studio album justifies its title. He knows he’s cheated the reaper a few times, and that he gets to live his second (or third, or fourth) life better than his first. More privileged people who’ve had similar brushes with death write memoirs about them. Reformed hard men from the grittier parts of the 0161 area code make sprawling, Vincent van Gogh-invoking, law of attraction-referencing albums instead. This is one of the finer ones, its vowels representing Malone’s home city throughout.

On these 15 tracks, he comes out swinging – and processing, and stepping up to some responsibilities. Malone has got a lot to say to estranged family. Sometimes, as on Salvador, he’ll own up to missing the excitement of the street life, or the Mini he used to drive. But the direction of travel is resolutely forward. “The Resurrection/ Constantly workin’ on my imperfections,” he mutters on Skeletons, the candid closing track. You learn that he’s proposed to his girlfriend of nine years (“diamond bigger than a blueberry”).

Malone is utterly up for the good times to come. Among The Resurrection’s harder blows are party bangers such as Ride Out and Bounce. There is much talk of wheels, watches, “everything rose gold”; the kind of luxe that plays well internationally. More locally, he’s recommending the coconut prawns in Harrods’ top-floor restaurant; on another party track, Notorious, Malone buries the hatchet with north London rapper Chip, with whom he had a long feud. The major sample of Notorious by dancehall MC Turbulence is on point.

Watch the video for Salvador by Bugzy Malone

As predictable as some of these productions are – those strings, operatics – some of this music catches you off guard with its excellence. Cold Nights in the 61 (produced by Blinkie) is made up of just three elements: Malone’s intense flow, and two nagging, repetitive motifs, one a jangling nerve, the other a deep, malevolent bass cutting across it.

But this album’s bleakest lows are probably its loftiest highs. There are reasons the man born Aaron Davis turned out like he did. You really can’t have too many reminders of the role of structural racism and the cavalier attitude of the authorities to children triaged by poverty, abuse and crime. Malone obliges with the stark, empathetic, angry Welcome to the Hood featuring Emeli Sandé. On Van Gogh Effect, he contrasts the progression of a normal family life against his own childhood, witnessing drug deals and violent retribution. “Can you get traumatised at five?” he asks rhetorically.

As he tells it, his mother was, at one point, a crack-using sex worker (“she turned one of her customers into my dad”), but he reckons she did her best by her son. Malone talks about his youthful suicide attempts, first with a school tie, then with a blade to the wrist. He talks about shooting at people but hitting “the goalposts” instead. If a lot of this is tough to hear, even reframed as pop music, it must have been hell to live through. On Gods, he asks forgiveness for being “a savage and a dog”. Perhaps this album should be played to the forthcoming jury.