One of the best things about being a lover of music is having the opportunity to watch an artist grow before your eyes. Such is the case with Queens native Bas. The fiendish Dreamvillain returns to the forefront of the label with his latest offering, Too High To Riot, an existential album that seeks to peer through the haze of weed smoke and reality in efforts to discover life’s elusive truths.
THTR arrives at an interesting time in hip hop culture. For years, there’s been a great schism in the genre in which new artists supposedly have to choose whether they want to make music that is conscious in it’s message or creating songs that will resonate in the club. Artists are told they must choose whether they are willing to address the issues that affect their community or create the music whose only purpose is to transport us to a mind state where such problems no longer exist.
We find Bas fully cognizant of what’s going on. However, he’s far more comfortable in taking a step back, slowly taking a pull from the bong, and pondering where he fits in a macrocosm of a world where there are no clear answers. In this regard, his existence serves as a symbol for the modern day African American millennial who has the potential for limitless success, yet is paralyzed by the realization that their reality isn’t as rosy as they were led to believe.
Throughout the album, he discusses his difficulty in maintaining relationships, his added responsibilities within his family, and the stress of trying to succeed in a country where innocent people can be clipped down by those who have sworn to protect them – a set of problems that millions of black millennials are forced to deal with on a daily basis. So instead of taking it to the streets with pickets in hand, you pass it to the left and pray to God that shorty texts you back before the high comes on too strong.
In spite of the drugs, this album’s delivery is very clear. At it’s core, this album is all about self-awareness. Bas is brutally honest about his shortcomings and that makes this project even more relatable. Like many of us, he means well and wants to make a positive impact on his community, but it’s difficult to succeed when the system is rigged to see you fail. THTR, is reminiscent of that period of life where you’ve fully embraced adulthood only to discover that the “American Dream” is more of an apparition than a birthright.
Lyrically, Bas has never been sharper. While Last Winter was a standout debut album, THTR is seasoned. The sound and content are far more mature. The album opens with it’s title track, “Too High to Riot,” where we see Bas set the tone for the rest of the album. He’s not using the drugs just to get high. It’s a form of escapism and self-medication. Throughout the track he gives his perspective on disingenuous friendships and relationships, government conspiracy, his career, and race. He then follows this up with the “Methylone” and “Dopamine,” two songs whose titles follow the pharmaceutical theme while still using clever wordplay that hearken to fake friends and controlling your own emotions in spite of the weight of world falling on your shoulders.
“Clouds Never Get Old” is a funky ode to the many women who cycle in and out of his life. While Bas does place value in a real relationship, like many in his generation, his sole focus on his career leaves no room for anything or anyone else. The tragedy within the song is the fact that because of his notoriety and ample means, it’s difficult for him to determine whether a connection is genuine or just another one night stand. It’s only when he awakes the morning after where he has the clarity to ask whether what he’s feeling is real. What makes this song stand out so much beyond the ridiculous beat (crafted by DIkC and Ogee Handz) is how honest Bas is in conveying the difficulties in falling in love in the 21st century.
Finally, “Live For” is another powerful song on the record. Dealing with the loss of a close family member, we get the opportunity to see Bas openly grieve the death of someone he truly cared for. He’s been around the world, seen success he had hardly dreamed of a few years ago, yet the death of this single person clearly rocks him to his core. Furthermore, to make matters even worse, while this family member continues to fade from existence, his job on the road keeps him from saying a proper goodbye.
While he’s touring the country and making his fans happy with his gift of song, internally he’s a wreck because the thing that has provided so much for him, is also keeping him from one of the people he loves the most. This experience causes him to look at his own mortality, the industry that he’s chosen to follow, and how he can make a way for himself despite being jaded by what he’s seen throughout his travels.
Musically, the project is true to it’s name. The tempo slowly strides to its own pace; never too quick and never so sluggish to the point of boredom. Overall, it has an easygoing sound that is reminiscent of the feelings of the carefree days of youth, tinged with the bitter realization that these joyous moments are numbered. The beats are a welcome respite from the trap sound that has inundated rap music for the past 5 years.
Utilizing swooning bass lines, trippy synths and pads, and the occasional talk box, THTR, has a unique sound that Bas owns from beginning to end. Tracks such as “Clouds Never Get Old”, “Too High To Riot”, and “Methylone” are my clear standouts where the blend of melodic hooks, swinging basslines, and lyrical concept are wed into unforgettable music.
Too High To Riot, is an exceptional album that fully encapsulates those late night, drug induced existential discussions that made college worthwhile. While you probably weren’t going to find the key to life’s problems at the the back end of a Backwoods, it was the feeling of kinship and knowing that someone else felt the same way as you that remained long after you and your friends came down.
It is the feeling that despite all of the shit that you know is forthcoming, you’re still going to be alright.
Purchase Too High To Riot via iTunes.
Stream it here.
Contact me via Twitter at @BlacktrickEwing to talk about Bas’s Too High To Riot and all things Dreamville.