Welp, here we are. The end of the road for Missed Connections in 2019. It’s been fun though! Our third part keeps things moving as Ashley explores some timely and powerful folk, and our newest writer Zach and I get into some lovey-dovey and rowdy-ass rap.
Right at the beginning of this year, Rome released their 13th album, and the word ‘memorable’ is an understatement. In Le Ceneri di Heliodoro, Rome mastermind Jerome Reuter stated his intent to pull no punches on all too relevant political issues, and musically, the album is deep, slick, and remarkably catchy. Yes, we damn near missed this one, and it would have been a crime not to cover it before the year is out.
Acoustic licks set to tribal military drumbeats and a level-headed tone of voice comprise the bulk of this record, but other progressive elements come and go to flesh out the ride, like the historically fantastical intro of “Sacra entrata”, the empowering midway point of “Fliegen wie Vögel”, and the beautifully perturbed outro of “Desinvolture”. As a neo-folk record, it is about as striking and as full-bodied as one can hope for. It takes some hearty nuances of folk and uses them to formulate something truly epic.
In another great folkish tradition, there is an element of transportation. Some of the fictitious narrative depicts a Romanesque contemporary society, in a seemingly modern-day military setting. Perhaps my observations were a complete misfire on this, but I like to think of the whole album as Stephen Baxter meets Pink Floyd, for anyone who understands those references.
Jerome Reuter’s subject matter, however, is far from sci-fi or fantasy. For better or worse, it is based upon today’s world. On that point, it’s very important to distinguish the sincerity of Rueter’s lyrics. Such relevant political topics coupled with those shady Enoch Powell samples could be misinterpreted as fanatical, but be assured that this artist is anything but right-leaning! Le Ceneri di Heliodoro attempts to discuss issues of a society in turmoil as best an artist’s endeavour can. As an upstanding European, Reuter uses the record to depict the fragmentation of his continent, its crumbling relationship with the US, and the frustration felt by the European people. It is a subjective analysis which gazes dead-centre, and mournfully, upon the increasing division between the left and the right, and the apparent inability to find well need unity, common ground, and solidarity in any faculty.
These frank observations can be heard in lyrics such as ‘The West knows best’, ‘You know a million sheep can be dispersed, by one lion’s roar.’ and ‘I found my nation in the legion’, all sung with the appropriate tone of voice to project Reuter’s passion on the subject. It’s easy to feel the intensity, and the level of intelligence behind it.
You can read in as deep as it goes, or you can drink in its musical prowess and leave the politics behind. Either way, Le Ceneri di Heliodoro sets out to give a long-lasting impression and achieves just that. Whether or not it’s the best Rome record of all time is a topic for the long-term fans, but placing it in such a context is not necessary, as the scope, conviction, and musicianship effortlessly renders this record a proud endeavour of its own standing.
For the past decade, Key! has been a staple of Atlanta’s hip-hop scene, working with artists like ILoveMakonnen and 21 Savage long before Drake had ever heard of them. SO EMOTIONAL is his latest effort, 20 minutes of goofy love songs that are often as much about infidelity as they are commitment.
The production is pleasant and relaxed throughout, and Key! has a straightforward lyrical style that is easy to understand and enjoy. His hooks are repetitive, and I mean that as a compliment: he can make a single observation (‘You go to Miami too much’) into a novella by combining repetition with subtext. He relies more on his sense of humor than intricate wordplay, and it makes for songs that are easy to sing along to. Key! croons his way through most of this project, and his talent and taste for perfectly placed ad-libs carries over whether he’s rapping or singing. The ad-libs on “Miami Too Much” are a highlight of the album in and of themselves.
On its surface, SO EMOTIONAL seems like a bunch of love songs, but the lyrics are constantly contradictory. Key! plays the hopeless romantic like Taylor Swift in the “You Belong To Me” video, but with a level of self-awareness that Swift couldn’t reach with a pooper scooper. “Why” features the lyrics, ‘I was so in love!/Then you lost me/Had to dub you ‘fore you dub me/I could feel it in my tummy’. There’s a sense of doubt and self-defeat that’s present on many of these otherwise romantic songs. On “Fall Hard” he sings, ‘Baby, what we doin’, is it we doing it?/Baby, let me know if I’m too attached’. There’s an honesty to this insecurity. It feels genuine; a simple, relatable couplet that conveys a complex concept.
You might compare it to the shallow end of the pool: “Wet Dreamz” by J. Cole, which also deals with insecurity in romance. When Key! puts a spotlight on his shortcomings, he provides enough information to understand the context, but leaves most of the details out. This allows the listener to fill in the blanks, making it relatable and impactful, often in the space of a single lyric. In contrast, J. Cole decided to spend an entire song talking about losing his virginity. Rather than allowing literally everyone who has ever fucked relate to the idea of being nervous about losing your virginity, Jermaine provides a bunch of superficial information about the events surrounding the loss of his virginity, literally forcing you to think about J. Cole having sex.
SO EMOTIONAL feels like a carefully curated selection of songs. There’s a sense of progression from track to track; an individual song may have a repetitive hook, but the album changes gears as it moves along, and its short length lends itself to repeat listening. Try it yourself: put it on loop, and before you know it, you’ve heard the whole thing three times, and you already know which song is your favorite. Key! makes stating the obvious compelling in a way that would work as well at the Laugh Factory as it does in the club. It’s an excellent project. My only complaint is that the “Love On Ice” remix featuring 6LACK isn’t on this project. I don’t care that it’s already on 777 Deluxe. Put it on here too, man. Gucci Mane did it.
David (that’s me)
If you’ve had your ear to the ground of hip-hop the last couple years, you’ve probably at least heard of Rico Nasty, rapping mom extraordinaire, as well as Kenny Beats, versatile producer and possible cop. Though I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard Anger Management. I’m here to change that. Rap’s current favorite sibs from different cribs bring out the best in each other on a rap record that’s explosive, boisterous, and reflective.
From Rico’s first enthusiastic bark of ‘Kennyyyyyy!‘, the energy is palpable. Matter of fact, there’s a tonal theme through Anger Management that’s foreshadowed by its name. The first few songs of the album are certified bangers, utilizing Kenny’s background in EDM (he was one-half of the duo Loudpvck since his college days to around 2017) to perfectly complement Rico’s confident, edged timbre. Anger isn’t so much the focus here, it’s more like unmitigated venting and vigor, but it shows an undoubtedly aggressive side to the XXL Freshman. The latter tracks however? For the most part, they run through calmer waters, providing our rapper with a lot of room to reflect and show some gratitude.
But fuck that, let’s talk about “Cold” first, one of the hardest tracks of the year. As if pent up for years, Rico just lets loose bar after bar of chest puffing and youthful invincibility that makes her endearing. Kenny’s bass rumbles through your skull and matches the diamond hardness she brings on the mic. Later on, we get “Big Titties” with EARTHGANG, a group I’m pretty fond of now, but was only just discovering with this feature earlier this year. The Atlanta duo brings the same energy as Rico with shit-talking rhymes that aren’t remarkable or profound on their own, but flow so well in the context of the song (‘I’m a five-star guy by far, you a sidebar/You a bounced check, I’m a swipe card’).
A short radio program-esque skit bridges us over to the second half which is a lot more tempered, but no less Rico Nasty. The second verse of “Sell Out” is even a little poignant in addressing aspects of her fame that she clearly cares about – her fans:
‘You guys are so strong and you don’t even know it
People hate you ’cause you’re different and focused
People hated me so I flipped it
And turned my emotions to something y’all could sing to
‘Cause some of y’all have been through the same shit I’ve been through‘
“Again”, the last track, takes on a similarly reflective and triumphant stance with a little autotune mixed in (thankfully the only track with it – I like my Rico uncut). By the time you get to this point, you’ve witnessed an arc of rage and release, her wild life distilled into a short 19 minutes. With acknowledging that anger is healthy when released in certain ways (‘The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation/I’m screaming inside of my head in hopes that I’m easing the pain‘), Anger Management sees its purpose realized: therapeutic catharsis for a young artist that’s had it rough.
Along with Rico’s increasingly prolific solo career, she’s venturing out with singing (and rapping!) features in unexpected places like the new Grandma album which shows she is far from interested in being contained. For my money, Anger Management is her most focused and passionate project, but to say it’s her only project worth listening to would be flat-out false (check out Nasty from last year). Just last week, she dropped a new single, and her live shows provide a visceral combination of ‘oohs and awws’ with her kinetic energy and bringing out her super cute son on stage for his birthday. Rico Nasty‘s the real deal, and she deserves her moment.