Unknown T
Blood Diamond




Unknown T, real name Daniel Richie Lena, came to prominence in 2018 as the architect of UK drill’s first crossover hit ‘Homerton B’. The track squared off drill’s angular concrete and metal framing with Afroswing’s fluid and curvy dips to birth something fresh and infectious.

‘Homerton B’ was a reimagining of drill, focusing less on semi-automatic hi-hats and other heavy duty sounds, making room for Unknown T’s dynamic flow that’s nimble, full of acceleration, and percussive – drawing more parallels to golden-age hip hop rappers Rakim and Big Daddy Kane than anything from this side of the Atlantic or this side of the millennium. More importantly, ‘Homerton B’ offered a glimpse of something joyous in the bleak world of UK drill. Dropped weeks before Notting Hill Carnival in 2018, it echoed throughout west London and pushed drill mainstream. Unfortunately the joy for Lena would be fleeting. His ascendancy was cut short when he was arrested in 2019 and held in prison for nine months in connection with the death of student Steve Narvaez-Jara in January 2018, before being released and cleared in 2020.

Paranoia, which is drill’s most intriguing atmosphere, was now justified for Lena. The sound he tinkered with post-prison quickly began to reflect that. Lena dug deeper into the latter day sounds of Skepta, tapping into the Tottenham MC’s underdog psychosis mentality (as Skepta famously explained in a 25-minute YouTube monologue in 2014). A Kafkaesque hue crept into his lyrics, as if like Josef K Lena could be pulled before the courts once again and tried for all eternity. The music that Unknown T began releasing (his two standout mixtapes Rise Above Hate and Adolescence) increasingly mirrored his environment; weighed under by uncertainty and surveillance.


Songs about love felt like they could be about turf wars, songs about selling drugs focused on the guilt of poisoning your people, police sirens sounded like tolling church bells. It gave his version of UK drill a distinctly weird edge. The mystery would only serve to intensify UK drill’s inherent apocalyptic quality, a genre that rests on the harsh truth that while UK grime was birthed in the shadow of the rising skyscrapers of  Canary Wharf, UK drill chokes on Grenfell Tower’s ashes. Lena’s music grew more sorrowful, yearning for redemption, like smoke billowing towards the heavens.

With Blood Diamond, Unknown T’s debut album, it felt reasonable to assume that the young rapper would neatly package the sound he’s crafted up until this point, ready for more widespread listenership. The reality is far different; Blood Diamond is not a crystallisation of his sound, it’s a volcanic eruption.

Like his mixtapes and his existence, the central theorem of his debut album is evasion. Evasion from a standard sound, evasion from the police listening in to his music, and due to the trauma he suffered from being wrongly imprisoned, evasion from his past. When Unknown T’s fully unloads his flow, you feel like even his words are running.

From the cinematic opener ‘2023’ that has a grime riddim at its core, the doors are swung wide open. The album’s pacing and tracklisting buries one in an uneasy world, flooded by love and loss, swept along with ballads and street tales. Ruminative tracks such as the gospel-laden ‘Rain’ collapse into songs of clear African joy such as ‘PASSA’ before landing back into East London with the stand-out track ‘Adolescence’, a track cut with fellow rising star Digga D building upon the street mantra of “pain is the essence” which borrows the hook from Giggs & Dubz’s 2015 underground road classic of the same name, the latter of which is one of the many homages (to Skepta, to Drake, and to Stormzy) that instils this record with a sense that it’s a passing of the torch.

What is most astounding is the sonic territory Unknown T covers. Blasts of ammo dovetail into swoons of a sultry sax. Sweeping piano, chunky Weeknd-like synths, and swirling wind instruments bloom flowers in otherwise concrete skies. Moments of adrenaline give way to moments of movement. Despair turns to beauty, as this album is frequently beautiful. No more so than euphoric closer ‘Til We Meet Again’ that soars with sophisticated strings that Unknown T’s flow glides through, reminding us that “young days don’t last”.

This is a proper album. Built like an album. Complex like an album. Moreish like an album. More than being an album, this is one of a handful of masterpieces in the wider UK rap genre. Blood Diamond sits alongside Boy In Da Corner, A Grand Don’t Come for Free, Kala, Made in The Manor, Konnichiwa, and GREY Area. While ‘Homerton B’ reimagined a genre’s sound, Blood Diamond has cemented an artist’s legitimacy; this is what UK drill has truly been threatening for years.