This album has everything I need. It’s twelve tracks with no single song longer than three and a half minutes. Nine of the twelve tracks are produced by Raphy which gives it a gritty propulsive consistency. The title track kicks the experience off and sets the stage for the ruminations you get, from “the phones smart but we all dumb” to “I think of Proof in every verse that I spit, I wrote this with an iron first, you still exist! I bust a right on Santa Barbara and reminisce.” The beat is a minimal squeak with big drums and over top of it Ray comes hard while never sacrificing his right to get as personal as he wants. On Flight Risk he talks about the bodies stacking up but pauses to wish the youth would just be themselves. Plea the 5th has a background vocal double that really sets it apart and some of the hardest lines you can render “Bet I John Wick ’em when that price right. Bet I Slick Rick ’em when its bedtime. We need that money by that deadline.” None of these songs sound alike or step on one another.
If someone asked me what Santa Barbara was about, it’s certainly about the loss of Proof and others(“Theres some people I wish I could wish back”—Bar Smithing), but also about the joyful release Ray gets from rapping. You can hear how happy he is to go full threatening mode on Menacing. On Ethan Hunt he declares “Real spitter, I ain’t gotta hear the beat but once,” the song ends with an audio clip of an interview about hip hop as a community, a vocation from the heart.
From a flow perspective Ray is incredible to listen to. He finds rhyming words in the most unique places, so if you sit trying to complete his next line for him you end up being wrong a lot of the time. It’s why he can make straightforward songs amazing (My favorite song Top Ramen is just him spazzing out for a minute and a half) but when things get weird its awesome. Old Faithful features Bruiser Wolf who has a Players Ball delivery and Raphy makes the beat a little more synth driven to match, Ray smashes it just the same. A lot of people will press play to hear Danny Brown spit (with Ray) over a Black Milk beat on Dopeman Heaven. Just be warned as dope as that song is, don’t come in assuming Danny Brown and Ray are on different MC tiers. They run neck and neck on this.
Santa Barbara ends in a magnificent way. As The Sword ends we are treated to an interview where he’s asked if he ever thought to switch up his hustle, become an actor or sell wine. Ray acknowledges some of these things would make more money but he just loves to rap and then Mental Case comes on. We are instantly locked into one of the years best story songs for two minutes and four seconds. I don’t want to pull any quotes from it, you just have to hear it. Ray has been rapping for so long everything he delivers is conversational from the reminiscing and missing to the threatening and hitting this is as an album people should think of directly whenever they speak the name Fat Ray. It’s also an album that should be held as the answer to ‘what does Detroit Hip Hop sound like?’
Stream the buy Santa Barbara below: