Hip-hop has become more of a mainstay in popular music than ever. In a world where even past game-runners are at least occasionally releasing the self-serving, pop synth-shellacked single, it seems like more than just a blessing when an act comes roaring through with a return to the scene’s storytelling roots. Golden Rules is just that, the unlikely brainchild of Paul White, a South London producer, and Eric Biddines, a Floridian rapper who’d first gotten his start on music listening to copious amounts of Motown before becoming influenced by Southern hip-hop in his teens.
Previously known for work with Charli XCX and Danny Brown, those working with a White record would recognize his more restive style to be something of a trademark that has helped in his being marked as a notable face amongst international underground DJs. Smartly, however, White cleans up his act in his first collaboration with Biddines exceptionally. A slick, steady mid-tempo sophistication permeates throughout the entirety of the 40-minute experience that is Golden Ticket. It offers its hand greatly to the cause of exemplifying a new age throwback theme that, at times, is reminiscent of Andre 3000 or some of Macklemore’s deeper cuts (“I Said Hey”), with funkier efforts such as “Down South Boogie” holding down a ’70s vibe similar to Snoop Dogg’s BUSH or Dr. Dre’s “Talking to My Diary”.
For the most part, clean beats would be nothing without a strongminded MC to ensnare an audience after tantalizing them with some fancy instrumental simplicity. Biddines, an underground favorite who has released multiple albums under his own label, handles a song like he owns it, but not with a single drop of conceit. His delivery is fittingly relaxed for the mostly chill, short, but sweet Golden Ticket, but he spits his bars with a streetwise authority as he takes on topics as vibrant and meaningful to his personal life as broken relationships (“It’s Over”) to painting tales which hearken back to his own rural upbringing (“Auntie Pearl’s House”). He handles himself well as more of the singing type on the ethereal “Fogged Window”, and takes on the theme of sex in a surprisingly tasteful sense on the fittingly soulful “Play Some Luther”.
An early fan of Golden Rules, Yasin Bey (aka Mos Def) offers his vocals to the atmospheric, honest, and reflective “Never Die”. It isn’t just a typical guest appearance; Bey and Biddines play well off of each other’s individual verses to weave their own stories from separate perspectives, offering something sinewy that the rest of the album doesn’t have. White changes it up at the last minute with a Middle Eastern flair on the titular closer, “Golden Ticket”, with a drumline and heavy bass and horn ensemble also offering themselves well to changing up the instrumental takes on party-ready “Holy Macaroni”.
Overall, Golden Ticket represents the best first effort that the unlikely duo could’ve hoped for. Its 40 minutes remain so cohesive that even less time seems to pass between its open and close. The records touches on life, from to a man’s upbringing, to relationships, to making love, and even to explorations of the more theoretical facets of the human mindset before rolling it all back again. Golden Rules might be able to make a record that’s a little tighter and a little more in-your-face on their next go-around, but the fact that they have embraced an actual ability to relay important memories and lessons to the listener through their music is something that many of those in the current mainstream rap game can take a cue from.