Roc Nation Records
For every interesting step in modern hip hop made by artists like Belly, there’s a lot of mimicry and pandering in the mix. Belly offers powerfully personal and political stories on this album while bringing interesting new directions to some familiar sounds. This said so much of the record is following others paths that even keeping it half as long as the latest Drake or Migos record doesn’t save it from a lack of staying power those same albums have in their singles.
The dreamy sounds that Belly surrounds his rhymes with offer a lot, especially when some of the writing falls into more generic territory. This elevates the more jaded vocals early on in “Another Note” so you can get to the meat in the powerful story of someone who took their opportunity for success and ran with it. “Xion” presents a much more divisive message as much of the clever wordplay Belly brings is counteracted by more misogynistic retorts. By alternating beats on something that could otherwise be discredited as lost b-side to one of his track’s for The Weeknd, “Who Hurt You” is surprisingly aggressive and direct. As the track starts to self-reflect on all this negative energy between infectious hooks, Belly seems to be aware of his own demons.
Belly takes a distinctly autobiographical turn on “Immigrant” with him and Meek Mill offering a dark look at how much of a gamble a new life can be. It’s MIA’s hooks and the powerful outro speeches that really have the most impact however on the politically heightened track. In the midst of some of the album’s more generic productions, Yo Gotti builds up from a slow start on “Numbers” to one of the most infectious flows on the entire record. Alternatively, there’s so little energy to Metro Boomin’s vocals on “All For Me” that it drags the track down. It’s such a shame too, as Belly brings out so many intriguing and mesmerizing vintage synth tones on this track that break his usual patterns that it would’ve been great to see this track have legs.
With French Montana leading the charge on “Dust” as a mix of retro samples and constant shouts keep the track on a lively pace. Even when a track on this record feels rather simple, Belly keeps things short and to the point to allow his record to be fun rather than tiring, as many recent hip hop records have become. It’s almost shocking in this respect to see Belly take such a boring left turn on “What You Want” where the writing seems so basic that it occasionally feels like a genre parody. Unfortunately between its repetitive drive and the answer-less questions, “What Does It Mean?” is far less profound than its lyrics suggest it must be.
This only gets worse on “Maintain” as all the derivative beats and rhymes end up boring at best. The song gets truly comedic however in the painfully robotic delivery of NAV, who offers cringe-worthy lines like “My blood diamonds cost me blood and sweat and tears” are just as bad as the Migos-esque background shouts. Even as Belly tries to make more inspiring statements on the ominous “Street Cathedral” there’s just not enough bold writing to make up for the rest of the record.
Words by Owen Maxwell