You wait ages for a role as an obsessive musician who gets brought low by a shock diagnosis, and then two of them come along at once. Before starring as a thrash-metal drummer losing his hearing in the upcoming Sound of Metal, Riz Ahmed picks up the mic as a stricken rapper in a fierce examination of identity, family and the past. If this blood-and-thunder drama is anything to go by, you already feel for the drum kit.
Mogul Mowgli sees Ahmed (part of hip-hop outfit Swet Shop Boys IRL) channel his own music to depict Zed, a rapper on the verge of a big American tour. But his girlfriend (Aiysha Hart), less impressed with his absences, suggests he reconnect with his disapproving family in London.
Then comes shock news: Zed has an autoimmune disease. He falls from the spotlight and is left feeling like an outsider. The slur ‘coconut’ – brown on the outside, white within – is lobbed at him as he struggles to rebuild, and a younger rival RPG (Nabhaan Rizwan) nips at his heels.
Ahmed, who also co-wrote the script, is in career-best form. Zed’s run-ins with his dad would be formulaic were it not for his visceral presence and a great turn by Alyy Khan as the father. But Ahmed is at his best in Zed’s darkest hour, as he struggles to hold it together in a hospital cubicle. It’s blistering stuff.
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