Conscious Dallas Rapper Buffalo Black's Latest Project Deserves An Honest Listen.
First and foremost, Jamil Kelley is a writer and poet.
Hip-hop? That's just a convenient medium for those other interests.
This is the most likely reason why Kelley's music, which he releases under the name Buffalo Black, never feels constricted to the status quo of the rap world. It could also be the reason why he hasn't earned the recognition that some of Dallas' other hip-hop standouts have received.
And yet, among his peers, Kelley seems perhaps the most primed for a monumental breakthrough. Earlier this year, it was confirmed that “Enter The Void,” a haunting, daring track from his Buffalo Black LP, which we lauded as one of the best local albums of 2013, earned a placement on the soundtrack for Spike Lee's upcoming crowdsourced film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus after the famed director asked for music submissions from independent/unsigned artists.
It's a deserved honor. On that 2013 Buffalo Black LP, Kelley established himself as an area artist worth watching. And better yet, one with a vision of his own. Throughout that album, he created a character, a vagabond, the “outsider-looking-in” persona. It was an introduction to the artist and his ideals. And it more than capably displayed his vivid writing abilities and abandonment of the predictable.
Now, Kelley's trying to build upon that early reputation. With REDPILLwondrland Part I, Kelley's just-released follow-up to that initial introduction, he flashes substantial growth. As with the last release, this latest one too plays on allegory and innovation. But it's more personal that that, too, playing on the realms of self-actualization inspired through expressionism.
“The concept,” Kelley says on the eve of his album's release this past Tuesday, “is to juxtapose, deconstruct our surroundings.”
Makes sense: The project's title alone quickly conjures an obvious reference to the Matrix film series, indicating a disdain for naivete and a preference for seeing the sometimes harsh realities of one's surroundings.
And Kelley is quick to build upon that base. Like really quick.
“Born not a prodigal statistic but a behemoth in mentality,” he raps in the album's opening track, “REDPILL (Intro)”. “Fuck creatures of habit — we devour their banality.”
This opening line sets a tone for the release — one about rising above expectations with originality and progressive thought. And Kelley, to emphasize his point, delivers the line with an aggressive, bitter intonation. As a rapper, it's the only style he utilizes, even though he does offer up a little more versatility as a singer on some of disc's tracks.
Writing, however, is where Kelley's strength truly lies. It's this ability that offers a cohesiveness and fluidity to the disc, for which the artist used beats from some six different producers. Overall, the album's tone is somber — at times desperate — and makes repeated use of industrial kicks and snares, most notably on lead single “Bad Seed.” But his words always stand out: On each track, Kelley's lyrics merit careful listening; they drive the album and are never wasted on banal hooks or typical rap cliches.
Avoiding another rap cliche, REDPILLwondrland Part I similarly finds itself devoid of features. Kelley carries the album, all by his lonesome, save for a sole guest appearance from from Atlanta-by-way-of-Dallas rapper Headkrack on the track “One Dose.”
And impressively, despite the project carrying a central theme, a consistent tone and Kelley's one-trick rap styling, the album offers plenty of variety. “Pendulum” is the greatest departure from the set, a track that finds Kelley singing about a past relationship over a soft bass line and snares. “Deja Vu” is a similar track that's softer than most of the rest of the material on the album; it highlights Kelley's lyrical talents while spinning a tale about searching for a certain kind of relationship he's had before and is desperate to find again.
Finally, REDPILLwondrland Part I closes with its strongest track. “No Blood Frets Man,” according to Kelley, sympathizes the Average Joe's struggle. Similar to the standout track “Enter The Void” from the Buffalo Black LP, Kelley utilizes a haunting chorus over a somber track that he can aggressively rap over. Essentially, it encompasses each attribute that makes REDPILLwondrland Part I not only a strong followup to his two previous releases but a compelling stepping stone toward the next installment of what the rapper says will be a series of efforts to be released under the REDPULLwondrland banner this year.
“REDPILLwondrland Part I is a bat signal for where the series is headed,” Kelley says.
Lucky for Kelley and his audience alike, it's definitely headed in the right direction.