MellowHype - "Loaded"
Just over half an hour in length, the re-release of MellowHype’s BlackenedWhite is a bite-sized trip across the surface of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, an accessible introduction to the rap collective’s abrasive and transfixing style. The second album from Odd Future duo Left Brain and Hodgy Beats, BlackenedWhite has lost some weight in its second reiteration – notably gone are tracks “Hell” and “Chordaroy,” among others – and the slim fit works quite nicely. It’s an attention grabbing half hour from the apparent heirs to absent Earl’s throne.
It is simply on the grounds of digestibility that I say that this album is accessible, since it’s not any fundamentally easier to process than either of Tyler The Creator’s much-hyped albums, Bastard and Goblin. There are still plenty of violent threats and homophobic slurs – not exactly an album to spin around your mom. But those jagged and uncomfortable edges seem less central to the mission of the album. Whether that’s better or worse, I’m not sure. Critics have highlighted this album as being tamer than releases from MellowHype’s OFWGKTA colleagues (Now with less rape!) but Tyler at least seems like he’s spotlighting those themes to get a rise out of you; Hodgy Beats slings slurs, seeming to barely notice them passing his teeth.
In reality, you’re not going to listen to this album if you can’t handle hearing, or at least disassociating from, these types of thematic elements. Far too much ink has been spilled on the topic of Odd Future’s thematic choices; suffice it to say that BlackenedWhite, like every other album in the Odd Future catalog, isn’t for everyone. It’s not a huge departure from the typical tropes of modern hip hop, but if you have a chip on your shoulder for the L.A. collective it’s not going to change your mind.
The album kicks off with the syrupy “Primo,” a smoke filled room of a track. As Left Brain gradually lowers the tempo, the song sinks into the couch cushions, with Hodgy extolling the virtue of weed while blowing off a final. Things made clear: 1. MellowHype is its own brand of Odd Future. 2. They do drugs. 3. They still have finals.
I mention that they still have finals because it seems important to remember that these kids, for all of their considerable talent and exposure, are still, well, kids, and prone to the same posturing of your average twenty-year-old boy. The songs on BlackenedWhite expound upon the focal points of that demographic: girls, guns, weed, conspirators. The resulting album is both poignant and puerile, full of posing braggadocio that reveals much about its creators. In videos and performances, Hodgy is a weird stoner who gets into a fiery zone when he raps; on BlackenedWhite he strikes a similar pose, swinging between blazed and blazing. Content to sit back on tracks like “Primo” and “Right Here,” Hodgy tries to pull off intimidation on “Igotagun” and “F666 The Police.” While he sometimes succeeds, he just as often falls shorts, attempting to sound tough but instead sounds like he’s trying too hard. “You shop at Kmart, I shop at A-K mart,” he raps on the album’s second track, “Gunsounds.”
Hodgy is a fine lyricist, but can’t predictably carry a track, despite packing more imagery into his verses than most non-backpackers. When he rolls solo, it’s hit and miss; “64” gets cathartically angry and “Rico” gives the listener a peek at the exposed edges of Hodgy’s voice. “Right Here,” on the other hand, is monotonous and unoriginal and “Igotagun” gets caught up in speedy style over substance. Moreover, he is outshined by nearly every feature. Tyler’s verse on “F666 The Police” cranks up the track’s energy, while Domo Genesis’ delivery on “Brain” makes Hodgy’s verse an afterthought.
The standout star of BlackenedWhite is Left Brain, the producer behind the sludgy, ominous beats that stud the album. Shying away from the growl of “Transylvania,” the song he produced for Goblin, Left Brain shows a Cerberus-like talent for beats of different flavors; sometimes his beats are ethereal, sometimes they’re polished, and sometimes they’re downright harried. On “Brain” he expertly slides in and out of the spotlight while establishing a sort of dusky ambiance with storm clouds on the horizon. Two songs later, on “Loaded,” Left Brain drops one of the best beats to surface on any Odd Future release. It’s the best song on the album.
Left Brain isn’t invincible. “Igotagun” is a sloppy and hectic mess that doesn’t provide much direction and just kind of slopes along. The beat evolves beautifully to provide the base for the following beat, a John Williams-like orchestral epic found on “F666 The Police,” but on “Igotagun” it’s pretty brutal. For the most part, though, Left Brain asserts himself as on of the most intriguing beatmakers in the game, supporting Hodgy as he continues to evolve. When Left Brain shines, Hodgy looks better too; sum, meet parts.
When the Odd Future gang burst on the scene on the back of Tyler the Creator, it did so by making music that was unavoidable. It was confrontational and compelling, with a delineating spark that set it apart from other music. BlackenedWhite, although it trades within the same sonic zone as its cousins, doesn’t have quite that same immediacy. These songs don’t shake you to your core or make you sick to your stomach, and I think, in the long run, that’s a good thing. MellowHype is no gimmick, and the pair has established an existence outside of Tyler’s sphere and mythos. They may dip into repetitive themes too frequently, but that is to be expected. Hodgy will grow up, Left Brain will only get better, and they will be able to create captivating music even after Odd Future’s fifteen minutes are over. For now, there are moments of brilliance to be found in the process.