A young Sheffield DJ with a residency at Fabric (amongst others) and a big Jamaican music hang-up, Toddla T is prime Ninja Tune fodder. Thomas Mackenzie Bell’s second album Watch Me Dance is an eclectic and assured effort from a producer who counts the likes of Roots Manuva as a friend and collaborator; but just how far up the UK hip-hop/dance cool ladder can this album propel him?    

Time will undoubtedly tell, but the prognosis is good. Toddla T’s overall sound is that of urban dance meeting small splinter cells of hip hop, reggae, electronica and grime. As opposed to integrating elements of all of the above into every track however, ‘Watch Me Dance’ is one of those albums that gives each of its tracks a unique voice. Whereas each track feels coherent enough, it does however mean that the album as a whole can at times feel like more of a compilation of ‘Toddla T Featuring (x artist)’ collaborations.

   

Still, ‘Take It Back’ and ‘Cruise Control’ are two early songs indicative of the overall quality of this LP; rollicking percussion and sharp, incisive rap characterises the latter whilst a velvety, soulful vocal melody and again, a playful and lyrical rap break are the signatures of the former. It’s tracks like ‘Cherry Picking’, the sparse backing track of pulsing, siren like bass at jarring odds with the melodies that let the side down a little. Equally, the reggae infused hip-hop of ‘Streets So Warm’ will likely divide opinion; the timbre and cadence of the rasta rap is strangely compelling but I can’t help think the melody is grating and muddies the strengths of the track, a feeling that occasionally crops up in other songs too.  

Then, there is ‘Badman Flu’, a track so tongue-in-cheek it works where it shouldn’t, such as the public service announcement style intro that announces that symptoms include ‘continuous use of the phrase pull up that blood clart, and spontaneous outbreaks of raping the gun finger’. It’s probably one of the best tracks on the album for being both ridiculous and full of streel-drum style bounce and ragga meditations on the eponymous malady.  

Ultimately, it’s hard not to be bewitched by the street allure and by the rhythms, sounds and imagery of Jamaica (via Sheffield) of Watch Me Dance - despite the efforts of a few tracks in particular. Get past them and revel in the humid, syncopated and frisky delights of the latter half of the album. Toddla T shouldn’t yet see himself amongst the truly upper echelon of the UK scene but he’s certainly prowling happily around the periphery, and Watch Me Dance is a two-step very much in the right direction.