Unbarred sentimentality has never been truly rewarded in Hip Hop. Drake, Kanye West, and even The Clipse do their share of soul bearing, but it’s always done with such bombast that’s it’s hard to even consider it sentimental. That type of sentimentality is almost like inside-out bragging; you can’t always take it seriously: sometimes it just sounds like a bunch of talk. But it makes sense that Rappers want to stay away from softer, more heartfelt material. A Rapper looking to the pages of his or her diary for song content is a risky venture. Sentimentality may be mistaken for corniness, and often it’s harder to make connections to a listener constantly immersed in Goines-ian guntalk. A rapper who talks earnestly about how they emotionally relate to the banalities of the world rarely makes for a good time. Still, rappers like Floridian up and comer, Laws speak to me on a personal level precisely because they wear their hearts on their sleeve, and that earnest shines through every track they create.
On Laws’ last official mixtape, the pretty good 4:57, he stuck to a battle rapper’s approach. Focused on being your “future favorite rapper”, he came correct, with punchline heavy rhymes, a NY by way of the South flow, and a collection of absolutely gorgeous production from a bevy of beat makers that he sometimes had trouble keeping up with. On Yesterday’s future, though, Laws has stepped up his game tremendously. Putting away his battle notebook, he has instead focused on creating autobiographical accounts over J.U.S.T.I.C.E.League’s stellar re-workings of Paul McCartney samples. Less talented artists would end up boring you to tears with this sort of concept, but Laws is able to avoid the trappings with his sharp sense of humor, flow, and his inflections. On “Knocking on the door”, he explains his rap career and how came to work with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League. The childish excitement of his voice when gets to the bit about J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League producer Rook contacting him, not only endears him to the listener, but engages them: You want to root for him.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E. league mines the depths of Paul McCartney’s discography, sampling B-sides cuts like “Love in Song” and “Let ‘Em In”. The Tampa production team supports and gives weight to Laws’ real life tales. Free to experiment behind a rapper with no intention other than to rap well and tell the truth, the beat crew doesn’t have to use the kind of epic orchestration that was needed to hide Rick Ross’ deficits, instead the production is more personal, more intriguing. “Fly” with its flanged sample of “I Want You to Fly” insulates Laws story of an inspirational friends fall from local celebrity to mediocrity before the track disintegrates into digital distortion as Paul McCartney sings the hook. Heart melting beats like “Homeland” complements Laws meditations on the changes in his life. And the somber, creeping chamber music of the title track helps Laws paint a dystopian image of Hip-Hop’s continued, and more complicated, decline into corporatism. .
As unintentional as it may have been be, J.U.S.T.I.C.E.. sampled tracks from many Paul McCartney albums that were critically derided due to what was considered, at the time, to be over sentimentality, and a seemingly lazy slant toward balladry. All of those albums have seen some critical reassessment recently, but still they are not considered to be the best part of McCartney’s discography. Like McCartney’s work during this period, Yesterday’s Future could easily meet the same fate. “I’m real for better or for worse” he declares on “Must Be Wrong” and it’s absolutely true. Laws is as interesting as a no frills, no gimmicks rappers come, but he might not receive the recognition that he deserves. As listenable as Yesterday’s Future may be, it’s not always fun. There aren’t a lot of quotable punch lines (“Must Be Wrong” contains most of them) and you can’t really dance to it, but the narratives Laws creates are too intelligent, too personal and too compelling to miss. “Me and Paul like a lit match made in Heaven”. I agree. If Laws is the future of FL rap, then the future might be brighter than a lot of Hip Hop fans expect.
You can download Yesterday’s Future at the link below.