CASISDEAD might not live in our world, but his music reflects its seedy underbelly. His debut album Famous Last Words is a fully realised expansion of the dystopian futurism that has captivated audiences since he first announced himself in 2013. Over the past decade, he’s dipped in and out of the shadows, blessing fans with cult hits while maintaining his anonymity, shunning media attention and donning various masks; a rejection of the spotlight that’s helped to create folklore around a rapper who’s widely regarded as one of the UK’s most inventive lyricists.
His highly anticipated LP Famous Last Words is as much a sci-fi film as it is a rap record, a labyrinth of vice, crime and faded glamour, soundtracked by synthpop production that wouldn’t be out of place on a David Sylvian or Tears For Fears album. The listener steps through a portal into a realm narrated by CAS, whose command of storytelling drops you right into the underground of a city where he is the main character in a shady network of gangsters, girls and drug deals. However, Famous Last Words isn’t a story of bravado or posturing; much of the album deals in themes of loss, regret and suspicion, a persona constantly self-reflecting amongst the madness that surrounds him.
The album features a carefully and idiosyncratically curated roll call of collaborators including Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, Connie Constance, Kamio and Desire. The vocalists are immersed in CASISDEAD’s hallmark 80’s-inspired soundscapes, aided and abetted by a production cast that includes Stranger Things composer Kyle Dixon and producer, composer and Italians Do It Better label founder Johnny Jewel. Meanwhile, actors Ed Skrein and Emma Rigby’s narrative weaves through the record, amplifying the widescreen, cinematic experience.
On “Actin’ Up ft. Desire”, arguably the record’s centrepiece, CAS tells the story of being accosted in a hotel by an armed man after meeting a woman on the way to do a deal on a car: “Here I go again I’m acting up / always slippin nah this shit ain’t adding up / sidetracked by little bit of sun / the first bit of skirt I see I’m in love”. The album’s closer Skydive sees CAS ruminate on his past selves and the scars he still wears today, while paying tribute to his late friend and creative collaborator Mello: “When you’re young you’re immortal / time moves slow / I was in the moment, blinked and I was old / the years that I was owed, stolen / as a result it made me cold”. “Skydive” features Neil Tennant, who was a huge influence on CAS growing up in Tottenham. He cites Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” as one of the song that got him hooked on 80s music and he regularly references artists from the era in his lyrics, such as on “Traction Control” – “blowin smoke listening to Dave Bowie and Erasure / a n*gga baked just chopping cake with the razor”.
The murky stories in Famous Last Words exist within the DEADCORP universe, a sprawling, dark underworld ruled over by the DEADCORP corporation. It’s both a corrupt and powerful organisation and a parallel universe that CASISDEAD helps you access, an urban dystopia that sounds and feels like London, but could be Gotham or the fictitious 2019 Los Angeles of Blade Runner. Spoken word interludes – sometimes human, sometimes robot – run throughout Famous Last Words and hold the record’s shady, paranoid narrative together. CAS channels Roy Batty’s iconic monologue in Blade Runner on “Do You Remember What It Was Like” when he whispers “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe”. The album is a hooded figure stood in the rain at night, lit up only by the neon lights of nearby shops and restaurants, a loner suffocated by the darkness of DEADCORP.
While CASISDEAD might have been lauded by globally-renowned rappers such as Skepta, Giggs, Dizzee and A$AP Rocky, he’s in a lane of his own. His ability to world-build, create personas and channel the sleazy allure of life in a big city bears as much similarity to an artist like Lana Del Rey as it does his rap contemporaries. At the dawn of artificial intelligence the world is at a turning point, on the verge of implosion. Famous Last Words is the soundtrack to that – one last beautiful bad dream.