Antwon: Heavy Hearted in Doldrums

[10 June 2014]

By Nathan Stevens

Antwon is difficult to categorize. His booming, boasting voice seems perfect for golden age boom-bap. His lyrics could fit into many modern trap hits; they’re filled to the brim with drugs, money and ludicrous amounts of sex. But Antwon isn’t in the major-label spot light. He works with the guys from Das Racist, his tracks are produced by dudes who only have bandcamps and he undercuts his boasts with crushing depression. Oh yeah, he also used to be a punk rocker. Heavy Hearted in Doldrums is the Bay Area rapper’s biggest release yet and it mixes and blends the myriad influences that Antwon brings to the table into one messy yet rewarding album.

Of all the albums released so far this year, Heavy Hearted in Doldrums deserves the “Explicit” and “Parental Guidance Required” labels. It’s an NC-17 experience. Considering how much Antwon obsesses over sex, it’s surprising he ever has time to record, or sleep for that matter. Within the first minute of the album he raps, “All up in her booty and you know that she can take it / Got long hair but that pussy hair braided.” By and large he follows the “Having sex not making love” approach. On no level is this album for the squeamish or the prude.

My favorite album of this year is the hyper-grimy Piñata and even I have some problems with how explicit Antwon gets. The ‘80s synth pop production of “Baby Hair” adds a disconcerting bubbling sound in the background that, when added to Antwon’s line of “Pussy made me urf-quay”, makes it a bit disgusting, to say the least. The album has other rough spots outside of Antwon’s overwhelmingly filthy bars. A few of the features here fall flat, Sad Andy’s verse in “Don’t Care” weighs down the otherwise excellent song; his Auto-Tune rap feels completely out of place. There’s also “KLF ELF” that has Das Racist’s Heems spitting some lines. Unfortunately Brooklyn based Pictureplane’s beats drown out Heems’ words. From what does come through it sounds like it was a strong verse, but it’s hard to tell.

Outside of those pitfalls Heavy Hearted in Doldrums is probably Antwon’s strongest release yet. Ignoring Heems and Sad Andy, the guests are solid. Ratking’s Wiki has a syncopated flow on “No Metro Nome”, Lakutis has a high energy verse on the last half of “KLF ELF” and Andre Martel is a welcome addition to album closer “143”. The best guest here is Lil Ugly Mane on “Rain Song”. A word to the wise, if you’ve been sleeping on him; wake the hell up. The Virginia-based rapper/producer has an album coming out later this year and with tracks like “On Doing an Evil Deed Blues”, he seems primed to make one the better albums of 2014. He balances speed and grit on his verse with lines like, “They tell you keep your head above water to keep your status / But I’m breathing under currents without any apparatus.” He’s also the producer on “Rain Song” (under the pseudonym Shawn Kemp) and it’s the album’s best beat. 

Still, this is Antwon’s show and his personality will make it or break it for you. He’s got an excellent group of producers backing him up and his chemistry with them is usually great. Cities Aviv’s heavy, piano-based beat adds weight to Antwon’s flow on “During Mimis” and on the opposite end of the spectrum is “Loser” where producer Stacy gives an atmospheric background for Antwon’s somber flow. Other than “Rain Song”, the best beat work is Suicideyear’s colorful work on “Don’t Care”. His arpeggiating synths boost Antwon’s hook of “I know deep down she hate me / But she keep it all inside.” “Rain Song” and “Don’t Care” are the best examples of Antwon’s strange duality. He’s seconds away from slipping into braggadocious bars, but his own voice is laced with sadness over some truly strange beats. It wouldn’t be surprising if this becomes a crossover hit.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181753-antwon-heavy-hearted-in-doldrums/