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Album review: Naughty Boy – Hotel Cabana

2013 has been an impressive year for UK based producer, Shahid Khan, aka Naughty Boy. Not content with having the UK’s biggest selling track by a British artist in ‘La La La’, he has now dropped his highly anticipated debut album, Hotel Cabana. When we interviewed him earlier this month, we got quite excited about the upcoming collaborations Hotel Cabana was set to host, and it’s safe to say the London-based producer and songwriter has not disappointed with his debut album.

The overall concept behind Hotel Cabana is a dark – and somewhat chilling – story of fame, success and money. After expressing his love for the big intro and interludes in our interview, Naughty Boy has kept to his word; ‘Welcome to Cabana’, which features both Emeli Sandé and Tinie Tempah, warns that the record’s titular hotel is, “where the sleepless kids live, dancing with fire, look what young money did.” The album predominantly features Sandé, both as singer and co-writer. With the first full-length track on Hotel Cabana being the ambient, finger-clicking anthem that is ‘Wonder’, we forget that the track was released nearly a year ago; it remains an album highlight, though. The pair also teams up on the epic ‘Pluto’, assisted by London rapper Wretch 32. Incorporating everything you would expect from a Naughty Boy and Sandé collaboration, ‘Pluto’ is full of thick drum shuffles, powerful strings, echoing vocals and rolling piano keys. Sandé also appears on remixes of her own, ‘Daddy’ and 2010’s ‘I’ll Never Be Your Woman’ with Wiley. The latest single, ‘Lifted’, is a gospel-influenced production forged from Naughty Boy’s trademark drums and looped strings, with intense backing vocals behind Sandé’s inevitably passionate lead.

‘Hollywood’ is a stand-out track on the album, and portrays a tragic love story of the highs and lows of fame. Beautifully narrated by British favorite, Gabrielle, the song encompasses the dark nature of what the music industry has done to many artists: “cracks start to show now, I’ve lost my grip on things somehow, they’re paying her more than me, wind blew over my money tree.” Gabrielle’s rough and tuneful vocals bring a nostalgic essence to the track, and she channels all the greatness that was ‘Dreams’ and ‘Out of Reach’ into this collaboration, making it an easy contender for a chart release in our eyes.

Following the huge success Rudimental had with Ella Eyre on ‘Waiting All Night’ earlier this year, Naughty Boy has brought her in to work her raspy vocals alongside Wiz Khalifa on ‘Think About It’; incorporating punchy lyrical hooks in this highly attitude-strung track. Naughty Boy emulates Timbaland with atmospheric drums, vocal echoes and elongated piano keys as he teams up Bastille’s Dan Smith (NOTION 64 cover star) on ‘No One’s Here to Sleep’. Another standout track, it sits comfortably alongside ‘So Strong’: a collaboration with fellow Watford residents, Chasing Grace. Ed Sheeran’s ‘Top Floor’, meanwhile, feels more like an interlude, and continues the dark journey through Hotel Cabana: “I raise my hands to the clouds, to check if heaven is with me now, cause the devil’s in my bed.” Throughout the LP, George the Poet lends his talents with interludes and epilogues, bringing the whole concept of Hotel Cabana together.

It’s not hard to say that Naughty Boy has got serious talent, and he depicts this metaphorical ‘Cabana’ throughout the album, managing to create one the year’s best musical voyages, filling its decks with a stellar cast of some of modern music’s greatest talents.

‘Hotel Cabana’ is available now on standard and deluxe edition. ‘Lifted’ is available now too.

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- Ben Lifton

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