Has-Lo's latest may not brighten your day with its demeanor, but his abilities on the mic are certainly worth your attention.
Perhaps we should be concerned for Has-Lo’s mental health. Then again, maybe he’s just saying out loud the dark and troubled thoughts so many of us suppress. One thing’s for certain: The Philadelphia rapper’s debut album, In Case I Don’t Make it, is serious business, worming its way deep inside the mind of a hurting man. But that’s not to say that this release is filled with self-indulgent pity-party nonsense. Instead, In Case I Don’t Make it is a thoughtful take on the reality of everyday life, refusing to simply dwell on the mundane but instead dissect it in an attempt to find the real reasons behind our questions and cynicism.
Last year, Kanye West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy saw success not just because of its stellar production and execution, but because of West’s introspective look inside his own psyche. While Has-Lo’s debut full-length shares an outward similarity, the difference is in the conclusion. Whether West’s findings on Fantasy were glamorized or scrutinized, his discoveries began and ended with himself. On In Case I Don’t Make it, Has-Lo refuses to stop at that point, allowing his songs to bleed outside of his mind and into areas of culture and society before drawing back inside his own nature. The journey is a riveting -- although often depressing.
It’s hard to pull quotes from Has-Lo’s debut since most songs are presented as free-flowing streams of consciousness that weave and wind through various subject matter. Nonetheless, the album is chock-full of lyrical genius, and Has-Lo’s storytelling capabilities truly shine. Each track brings to light a different area of doubt and frustration in the rapper’s mind as he expresses his discontent with himself and the world around him. The sarcastic tone of “Everything Is” sheds an early light on the nature of the album, with Has-Lo spitting, “How naïve that I could be / I exist in the guise of a life complete / I compete to win, though I lose myself / In a penthouse room with a view from hell”. In refusing to place blame on his surroundings for his current depressive state, Has-Lo allows himself the freedom to experiment with various causes and effects throughout the course of the affair.
There’s no stone left unturned in Has-Lo’s search for understanding. His explanations of pain get planetary (“Storm Clouds”), religious (“Subliminal Oppression”), and material (“Build Jewelz”). Other tracks such as “Untitled #1” jump from topic to topic before seeming to land on the root issue -- in this instance, his Grandmother’s poor health. Has-Lo’s flow is tight throughout the course of the album, his voice sometimes exuding more somber tones while other tracks push him to pick up the pace. In regards to production, In Case I Don't Make It is reminiscent of some of the more laid-back hip-hop albums of the early '90s, and each beat, produced by Has-Lo himself, features it’s own identity. The mellow keys on “Everything Is” are simply beautiful, while the backing vocals of “Storm Clouds” are hauntingly appropriate. “Kinetic Energy” is an musical standout, with its flashback-inducing scratches and a tinkling piano line that creates a backdrop for some of Has-Lo’s best lyrical output on the album.
In the final moments of In Case I Don’t Make it, Has-Lo drops the line, “Is this an unfunny joke or a suicide note? / You’ll never know” as the beat abruptly drops out, followed by 20 seconds of record crackling. The listener is left unsure whether to chuckle or gasp. There’s no real redeeming themes here, just the painful questioning of a man who proclaims, “I fight inside for inner peace with each sigh”. A pick me up, this is not. Indeed, the repeated doses of depressing imagery cause the album to stumble at points when Has-Lo’s abilities as a rapper and producer could easily keep the album from becoming stagnant. For his sake, let’s hope his next outing finds him in better spirits. In the meantime, In Case I Don’t Make it is a chillingly thoughtful experience and a worthwhile debut.