- LP - art wrecko edition
It is no secret that things are getting worse. By virtually any metric––economic or medical, or ones more abstract and spiritual––American society is in decay. The feeling permeates daily life in innumerable ways, giving the present a gnawing, ambient dread.
Solemn Brigham is not content to leave this at a low hum. On his dazzling new album, South Sinner Street, Solemn examines this decay through the prism of his hometown: Albemarle, North Carolina, where the blocks he grew up on are crumbling like everything else. “What was once a vibrant area now survives as a reminder that the only thing eternal is change,” Solemn says when describing the project’s genesis. “Trash and debris flood the streets, relics of the many lives lived––each piece with a story to tell.” South Sinner Street not only traces the degradation of the world around us, but documents the way communities can come together to stave off that slow death, lifting its members up in the process.
Solemn is uniquely equipped to animate the relics of a once-thriving neighborhood with the specificity they deserve. The rapper, whose work with his fellow North Carolinian, L’Orange, as the duo Marlowe has been critically acclaimed, is one of the most vocally acrobatic working today, able to contort himself into a dizzying array of different flows and inflections, accomplishing alone the sort of musical variety that sprawling collectives try and fail to achieve. Take “Couple Towns,” where Solemn moves from a seesaw pocket into a flow that cascades over the ends of bars; contrast this with the bonus track “Relax,” where each bar sounds as if it’s the final thought spilling out of his mind at the end of an impassioned phrase. The end of “Vice North” even recalls the technically stunning runs of One Be Lo, the Michigan rapper who in the 2000s became one of the genre’s chief chroniclers of a similar country-wide disintegration.
But this is not merely a showcase for verbal acrobatics. South Sinner Street is deeply personal, juxtaposing personal growth with the decay that surrounds it. “This is no rags to riches story,” Solemn warns. Of course––it’s more complicated than that. When, on “Vantablack,” of a toddler cradled in his mother’s arms while that mother nurses a cigarette, he is not asking the listener to imagine a tragic end or a harrowing origin story. The point is that we are all, perpetually, the child and the mother: doing our best to cope, even against our better judgment; persevering despite the circumstances that surround us.
And yet South Sinner Street is buoyed by a sense of playfulness that lights up even the pitch-black corners of Albemarle. “Nothing Left” succeeds in turning end-of-your-rope sorry into something like an in joke. When, on “Vice North,” Solemn raps about putting his hands together in prayer only to find “the line still busy,” his voice bakes something amusing in the complaint––maybe the sense that a young man in a small city is irked at God the way he might be at a flaky friend from the gym. And then, speaking of gyms, comes the laugh-out-loud moment on “Dirty Whip,” when Solemn concedes that he didn’t make the basketball team “‘cause I’m me-first.’”
Across its 14 songs, South Sinner Street argues for Solemn Brigham as one of the most exciting artists in underground hip-hop, a technical virtuoso who also happens to be one of the genre’s most surprising, most deeply personal songwriters. The album evokes the feeling of climbing onto a house’s roof to survey the nearly-burning city around you, with all the peril that entails––but also all the possibility.
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