Ed Sheeran’s latest full length offends by virtue of being entirely inoffensive. No.6 Collaborations is a consumer grade product. It’s a sturdy, affordable, featureless collection of pop, R&B and hip-hop.
As a commodity it does what it should. It fills airtime in dentist’s waiting rooms. Though consider this a consumer notice: this is Ed’s ‘rap’ album. He raps on it. Almost every song.
‘South of the Border’ is a trip for sure; a sort of fantasy song about a smoking hot Latina conjured from Ed’s imaginatarium. Therein Sheeran thirsts over a woman with “curly hair” and “caramel thighs”, which is the way your creepy uncle might have ogled Sofia Vergara back in the day. It’s sort of startling to hear now. That’s before Cardi B clarifies: “Ed got a little jungle fever” she purrs. The race chat here isn’t exactly delicate but it’s all in good fun I suppose.
The idea of Ed Sheeran trading bars with a rapper like Stormzy is quite funny honestly, but nonetheless ‘Take Me Back to London’ is essentially that. The idea that they are equals in any regard is due only to sizeable largesse on the part of Stormzy. The rapper parlays with Ed over staccato strings, probably thinking the whole time that this will be great exposure, and swallowing every fight-or-flight cry rising within saying flee the recording booth.
Although if someone wanted to rap about how great I was, I suppose I’d let them. Every thing Stormzy has ever done is itemised here in a cringy brag-rap; “‘Cause you can win BRITs (It don’t stop) / And you can do Glasto (Headline slot)”.
Ed’s bars on the same song, it should be noted, aren’t great. Here are some.
On ‘Remember the Name’ Ed spits hot fire in the form of “Yeah I was born a misfit, grew up 10 miles from the town of Ipswich” opposite 50 Cent and Eminem. They may both be fossils at this point, but how humbling for them to be summoned to the court of MC Sheeran, the kind of the guy they probably would have shot at one point in their lives.
If this album was just Ed Sheeran living out his Cash Money fantasises then I probably wouldn’t have bothered listening to it. It would have been bad, sure. Sheeran has zero presence on these songs and his raps, if they can be called that, land like a fist of surfactants. But Ed has a serious chip on his shoulder, and No.6 Collaborations is largely spent justifying its own existence.
Ed spends an exorbitant amount of No.6, in a case of thou doth protest too much, arguing that he should be allowed to do this. Critics “just want me to sing“, because “nobody thinks I write rhymes.” This vinegary outlook not only robs the album of any kind of attitude, it makes him sound incredibly thin-skinned. If there is anything less applicable to the ethos of rap, it’s an inability to take criticism.
The worst part of it all? You’ll be humming it regardless. Ed Sheeran is still a smith when it comes to earworms, and is able to batten down chorus after chorus. ‘South of the Border’ may be fluffy race pastiche, but the hooks come out clean. The closer Sheeran hews to melodic pop, the better, and the Khalid assisted ‘Beautiful People’ and Bieber feature ‘I Don’t Care’ (both hit No.1) as well as ‘Best Part of Me’ with YEBBA are pretty. So, here we are again. Ed Sheeran doesn’t make interesting music. He makes reliable hits you can count on to stick around, and stick in your head. This is strictly functional. But everyone needs to shop in Ikea sometime.