Jerome Raheem Fortune isn't Fool's Gold's best hip-hop release, but it's undeniably its most interesting.
The “weird Atlanta rapper” characterization is at this point tautological and underscores a fundamental issue with artistic movements known for their genre-bending natures: when everybody is weird vis-à-vis one another, is anybody weird? Though each of the city’s brightest young stars exhibit singular talents that emphasize their unique standing within the music world, the production behind these releases has been relatively unchanged. That is, until Rome Fortune’s Fool’s Gold debut, Jerome Raheem Fortune.
The relationship between electronic music and hip-hop has been a fruitful one this decade, with big-name producers and rappers teaming up to make the mythical “banger” that they know will be a massive hit before any notes are played. But most of these songs follow a similar sonic template, explained succinctly by Pusha T on “Untouchable”: “Ignore most requests for the feature / Unless it’s getting played on the beach at Ibiza.” These songs feature punishing trap beats as is currently in vogue. Jerome Raheem Fortune contains few beats that would be described as suitable for hip-hop were just the instrumentals played, and the album is all the better for it.
The bells that were sprinkled throughout Beautiful Pimp II’s are here transformed into the backbone of an entire beat, and for most of the album, are the percussion family’s most prominent representatives. This is an album, like so many, indebted sonically to what Kanye West began with 808s & Heartbreak, albeit without the titular drums that soundtracked his emotionally transparent lyricism. Such lyricism, which at times takes a backseat to the fascinating production, does no such thing as Fortune looks inward on “Love”: “Because I want to end it all / My career and even ending my life / … / I could never when I look in your eyes.“ When the drums do show up, on the techno thumping of “Dance”, they resemble little of hip-hop orthodoxy. It’s a song that plays proper homage to that genre’s predecessors by allowing the lyrics to act as a mere hypnotic vehicle while the beat itself is what truly does the talking.
Jerome Raheem Fortune peaks, however, on the contradicting “Blicka Blicka”. The song begins with an ambient introduction before veering into synths that sound as indebted to Philip Glass’ masterful Glassworks as any hip-hop song ever has. Save for a few breaks in the beat, the instrumental is pleasant while the vocals are wholly intense; “This is my intuition / And it says I shouldn’t be pigeonholed." Making a song like “Blicka Blicka” on an album that sounds like Jerome Raheem Fortune, especially after a career which delved frequently into hip-hop’s topical ids certainly points to breaking out of whatever labels people have placed on Fortune. Except “weird”, that is, but in this musical landscape, it’s only ever a compliment.
With regards to Fool’s Gold’s discography, Jerome Raheem Fortune isn’t the best of their hip-hop releases -- that goes to Danny Brown’s XXX and Run the Jewels’ self-titled debut album -- but it’s undeniably the most interesting. So often in music are albums simply derivatives of the main genres from which their artists engage, and it is refreshingly rare for an effort to combine seemingly disparate sounds. Maybe hip-hop doesn’t need metronomic drums to provide songs a pulse. Maybe the next frontier is taking cues from the classic albums of ambient. There’s bound to be people who’d obsess over a Boards of Canada-inspired hip-hop album. Thankfully, Rome Fortune’s helped push a dream like that closer to reality.