Way back in ‘09, we co-piloted The Swelly Express. Now, 500,000 likes on Facebook later, every college-rap-mixtape-streaming-anonymous-beefing kid from West Philly to London is on board and not looking to disembark anytime soon. Like many of their ‘Ye acolytes, they broke into the biz inhaling every last viral fume off the digital ether. The cream always rises to the top regardless of the medium. But now with a feature-length LP to stock disappearing shelves, not to mention all things swelly, the real dilemma is if they can still expand their creative horizon without kowtowing to an increasingly desperate record industry.
GQ asked them a question their A&R guy no doubt bludgeoned to death — Why is “Opposite of Adults” not on this album? “It’s like how do you make a million dollars? Start with two million dollars. We wanted to create an album from start to finish, not just get signed for big songs and then fill it in,” responded DJ Xaphoon Jones. Defying expectations is a noble goal indeed. I certainly wasn’t anticipating a low-key piano “Intro” that morphs into tight midi synapse sparks. Vintage mellow at its finest.
Once we sit down for “Breakfast”, nowhere near as bright and bleary eyed as Kanye’s “Good Morning”, Chiddy dials down his lyrical prowess in favor of flowing with the upbeat tracks laid down by Jones. A tuba snort here. A well-timed key progression there. But with a weak chorus to hold things down, “Look at what you made us do/This is the type of early morning shit that you wake up”, and verses like “They think they’re steppin up/They’re on the StairMaster” and “I’m just swellin on ‘em/I don’t hear’em yell/I’m about to go hellin on’em” don’t really want to make you get out of bed.
“Hanclaps and Guitars” sounds almost identical to Wiz’s “Party All Night,” featuring a stoned chick singing accapella with Auto-Tuned snooze. Fortunately they resuscitate the aural cavities with sequential heat seeking singles in “Mind Your Manners” and “Ray Charles.” The former seizes upon Icona Pop’s signature high pitched pop, layers in some summer-tinged acoustic guitar and consonant synth beats, creating a junior high school crush vibe fit for any beach party. The latter is soulful Sunday morning gospel. An homage to the legend of Ray himself: “I make the music with the soul of a blind man/They be amazed at how I get the ladies to climb in/And they try and do it but they’re blind to da fact/That they’re just stuck in the trap standin right where they’re at.” A perfect opportunity for Xaphoon’s inner Elwood Blues to break out.
No rap album is complete without a sensual slow jam. “Does She Love Me” uses the tried and true technique of sampling a jump-cut hamster for the chorus. This could easily venture down an obnoxiously repetitive road, but thanks to silky smooth three chord markers and some electronic guitar haze there’s plenty to keep you full.
Pat Grossi (Active Child) must have slipped into the studio to provide backing vocals on the curiously infectious “Talking to Myself.” Harmonics aside, it feels like Chiddy’s most reflective number: “Parents just don’t understand/And neither do y’all/You want to hype me up and be there/But I don’t blue ball.” Things should’ve ended on the 32-bit humor of “Baby Roulette” (a game rap stars are painfully familiar with). Instead we’re kicked out via inane ESPN jam “4th Quarter.”
For all the gems crystallizing below on their debut disc, it’s a 50/50 product. If they don’t completely fall victim to the genre blending racket they’ve partially succumbed to above, and just relied on their own tremendous talent (Chiddy holds the world record for longest freestyle session), they’ll undoubtedly return to “and we’re pretty much amazing” status.