I really believe that hip hop is supposed to deliberately distort previous models of music and build in different directions, even if it is distorting itself. As much as everyone’s sound evolves from someone else, or some era no one is actually in debt to anyone. So when North Carolina’s Rain took the smooth soul sound that J Cole has brought with him and layered boom bap behind it, it felt perfect. The blueprint is understood by producer DJ Pain and Rain – every track is a soulful rattle that feels like its old, but makes you want to turn it up and wonder if your bass can handle it.
The production on Magic Hour 2 is not even half as interesting as the manifested character Rain brings to his rhymes. He finds moments of self-consciousness he can’t avoid, while still fitting comfortably into the cocksure hustler who can’t be played with. He paints the hustler as socially aware and tragically intelligent, bobbing from humane to inhumane and back again by the end of many songs on Magic Hour 2. This type of wordplay is what we loved about old Jay-Z.
I’m not sure if Rain remembers when MC Ren started his debut album by saying “Fuck an Intro” and just spitting from there, but he still follows the blueprint by doing the same. The track is called “intro”, but it’s really just a song declaring the seriousness and shimmering soulful thump that is to come. Even songs you would normally discount from seriousness take on new dimensions. “Still High” feels from the title and the chorus that it should be a weed song but it has those moments…
“Grab the bottom of my shirt wipe the smudge off my lenses/ now I see clear I can notice who my friends is. I want to help everyone/ my heart is tremendous/ but once they start to receive/ that road seems endless/ my soul needs cleansing…” Right as the song ends and you ask yourself if he’s really a “conscious” rapper there is a skit where he solicits a woman to bring her friend for a three way.
In the first 42 seconds of “Coming Back” he goes from waving middle fingers at the rollers, to crying tears over years of wasted effort. It’s this kind of spastic, emotionally unstable understanding of the pimp/hustler character that feels the most real- ten thousand times more then the invincibility of Ice-T. Rain’s gun talk on “Come on 5” is frighteningly casual, and effortlessly gives way to more romantic songs like “Ring Size”, which as limited as it should be, but is still about the character finding balance emotionally. He also drops the tremendous line “Still so soulful like the ghost of Willie Hutch.” This deserves its propers.
This is one of those mixtapes that feels like an album. The samples whisper in the background, and Rain’s story feels like the soundtrack to your favorite blaxploitation film spoken by a real Donald Goines character. It doesn’t matter if it’s actually real; the development of the perspective is brilliant. Tracks like “Then I Met You” and “Peaked Lapels” give a half somber semi-remorseful drinkers confession that effortlessly slips back into bragging. When he brags about doing it better than 92% of people in the game, ir’s hard to disagree. He can laugh at you and you laugh with him, and then on the next track he can stop our dancing with the kind of painful honesty you go far more underground to find. This is the evolution of the southern MC, able to ride, shit talk, and drop science at the same time. The essence of Magic Hour 2 is “Rich Forever” which lampoons his own dreams of wealth at a more merciless pace then he lampoons haters or backstabbers. Lines like “Asked her what she wants to be/ and she said Rich Forever/ I thought she would of said to be a good mother/ but I guess this bad world took all this good from her.” He takes a song about the desire for wealth that feels like it will become a call to achieve but he spits on the whole concept and starts over. Rain is a strong enough person to reject what he knows, to find out what he is missing. This might not be the best mixtape of the year, but it’s definitely high on the list, and it might be the bravest lyrical exercise.
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