What it is: The third album from English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, the guy most college acoustic open mikers are aspiring to be.
I talk a lot on this blog about rappers delving more and more into singing, but you also see the reverse–more traditional pop singers dipping their toes into rap. When I heard Ed Sheeran rapping the verses on The Divide Symbol‘s opening track, “Eraser,” I was kind of surprised and wondered if pop/rap crossovers were actually his shtick. Not really, as it turns out, since he only returns to MCing on one other song, “Galway Girl.” Still, says a lot about the fluid state of contemporary hip-hop that there’s more conventional non-melodic rapping here than there was on Future’s last album.
The other thing that surprised me about ÷ was that, while Sheeran seems to have a persona of bashful vulnerability when viewed from a distance, on record he actually comes across as kind of a douche-y bro. The rapping is part of that, of course, but so is his condescending dismissal of politics on “What Do I Know?”: “My daddy told me, ‘Son, don’t you get involved in politics, religions or other people’s quarrel…’ Love can change the world in a moment/But what do I know?” Tell that to the people getting deported, Ed.
Probably the most off-putting song on the album is “New Man,” in which Sheeran berates his ex for dating a guy who “got his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached/Owns every single Ministry CD/Tribal tattoos and he don’t know what it means,” etc. It’s bad enough that this guy sounds like what I’d imagine most of Sheeran’s male fan base to be, but the lyrics descend to another level when Sheeran notes that he “wears a man bag on his shoulder, but I call it a purse.” Dude, you look like an overgrown infant; is macho masculinity really the playing field you want to be competing on?
Focusing on these lyrical transgressions may be missing the forest for the trees, as I get the impression that Sheeran’s fans gravitate more towards his anthemic tracks like “Castle on the Hill” and “Dive.” But given that he’s been accused of at least three instances of plagiarism, it’s hard to take him seriously as a master tunesmith.