Monday, August 31, 2015

album review: 'habitual lyrical' by brazy da bo$$

So about eight months ago, I covered Alexander The Great III, the newest record from Brazy Da Bo$$, a hip-hop MC from Baltimore that actually conducted himself with some civility when he hit me up to cover the album and, hell, it was the middle of January, what else was I supposed to talk about? And I reviewed the album and it was decent enough, from what I can remember of it, mostly holding up on better-than-average production to compensate for subject matter that didn't really impress or interest me. It was laid back and chill and it did have 'All Dogs Go To Heaven' which showed there was actually some rapping talent and creativity if he had emotionally compelling subject matter... but I'll be honest, I haven't touched Alexander The Great III in months outside of that one song, and I'd struggle to remember any other cut from it.

Fast forward to now, Brazy Da Bo$$ has a new album, and it's titled Habitual Lyrical. This caught me off-guard immediately, mostly because in looking forward to describe this guy, 'lyrical' wasn't really one of them. He wasn't a bad rapper, but his content never struck me as immediately complex or lyrics being the most important element to his music. But on the flip side, he's also from Baltimore, and when I see songs called 'City On Fire (Pray For Baltimore)' and I think back to the nightmare there earlier this year, maybe something inspired him. Of course, he could be sticking with the same regular subject matter, and the fact that his album is around forty minutes for fifteen tracks did raise a little concern for me. But hey, I was curious, and it was either this or Five Finger Death Punch or Disturbed and you couldn't pay me to cover either of those, especially when I have Slayer and Iron Maiden coming down the pipe. So, what does Habitual Lyrical deliver?
Well, it's definitely more interesting than his last album, I can say that, and it is a definite improvement pretty much across the board, showing more personality, tighter bars, and generally a sharper presence behind the microphone. Will it be enough buzz to drive him towards success? Tricky to say, but Habitual Lyrical is definitely a step in the right direction, and I definitely can't complain about that.

So let's start with the element I've always liked about Brazy Da Bo$$: he's got a solid ear for beats and production, and he works with producers that give him a shimmering, instantly melodic and memorable music. In this case, YasinMusic, Chance McCollough, Tantu Beats and GoonOnTheTrack all put together a cross-section of beats from the spacier side of old-school boom-bap to gleaming trap-inspired bangers that focus more on the synth-heavy melodies than the bass, and honestly sound better for it. The pan flute on the intro, the great drum pickup on the cascading 'Immortal', the sticky as hell guitar line on 'Brazy & Her', the smoky reverb and bass on 'Don't Play', and especially that sax interlude on 'City On Fire (Pray For Baltimore)'. Hell, that wall of fake strings on 'Baby Mama Problem' was arguably the best thing about it as it tried to lend an otherwise fairly ugly song a veneer of class. Of course, it's not perfect - the choice for so much of this album to stick with glossy high-end synths means that the bass beats can feel a little lacking, and some of the tones are just grating as hell, most notably on 'Champion' which features this slightly runny hi warble that runs through the entire song and makes you wish the bass would swallow it whole. The larger problem is that many of these songs feel like fragments, running just long enough for Brazy and maybe another writer to hammer out some quick bars before ending, and you get the feeling he could have fleshed out the bars into longer stories with more punchlines, or maybe another hook or two.

Granted, the might require some more detailed and intricate songwriting than this record is really providing. As much as I had hoped for more, the political track 'City On Fire (Pray For Baltimore)' is a complete tonal whiplash as a conscious rap track, and arguably a pretty damn solid one - and it does not fit the rest of the themes on this album at all, especially positioned square in the middle of this record. Most of this album is focused on Brazy Da Bo$$ flexing his skills as an MC, getting high, getting laid - often with your girl, and we'll come back to this - and then near the end of the album, a few breakup tracks before a plan to move on to focus more on his craft. Of said breakup tracks, 'Mean Well' is by far the strongest, as it actually gives him a chance to end things for because of the feeling dying out when she wants to settle down for things moving too fast. It's an awkward sort of song, but in the good way, and really is a sign that if Brazy wanted to be a more introspective, earnest MC in the vein of a J.Cole, he could pull it off. He certainly does it better than the 'screwing your girl' vein of songs like 'Time Flys' and 'Baby Mama Problem', the latter is played so sleazy that it doesn't so much come across as shocking but trying way too hard. But then again, the question of how much effort Brazy is putting into this album comes up on this album pretty starkly, and it ties into the arc: if he's got so many albums in the can ready to go so he could retire and coast by pumping them out, it kind of contradicts the narrative of how hard he's working on said music, especially if the material feels unrefined or songs feel as unfinished as a few of these do.

Now to give Brazy some credit, his actual technical writing and delivery has improved. He doesn't nearly rhyme words with themselves or hype his older material so gratuitously, instead relying on punchlines that actually do stick out a bit on some pretty solid flows. He's not especially a visceral rapper or one that will grab you with huge personality, and there are certain flows he has that work a lot better than others - particularly that rollicking flow he has on 'To Infinity' that has some great groove to it. And while I would argue that C-Raye kind of steals the show on 'This That' by being a bit more forceful, placing Brazy near the forefront of the mix does place him a potent light and he definitely shows his improvement against Y.M. on 'Don't Play'. Of course, that all relies on him sounding engaged, because on the interlude 'All I Wanna', it feels more like a YasinMusic showcase as Brazy sounds half-asleep!

In the end, I will say this is a modest improvement, but I think this album could have used more polish and a tighter edit to really come together well. Many of these songs feel on the precipice of really having hard-hitting moments but are just a bit too short or lacking in consistent flows to hit harder. I do think that Brazy Da Bo$$ is aiming higher, but I reckon this album could have used a little more polish to define his strengths a little more clearly and what direction he wants to take his content. For now, again, a lot of his production really does work for me which pushes this to a light 6/10 and a recommendation, but a qualified one. If you're looking for a reasonably talented and improving MC, keep your eyes out for Brazy Da Bo$$ - I can definitely see promise ahead.

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