Namir Blade Unsettles Expectations on Metropolis

Namir Blade blends the personal with the hyper-futuristic in his newest and first fully self-produced album Metropolis. The title is a reference to the anime film which was modeled after the 1927 Fritz Lang classic about the crumble of civilization under the weight of late-stage capitalism. The title, along with the cover which looks like a cityscape straight out of Blade Runner, sets the stage for an unusual and unsettling sonic journey.

From his press release: “The ride isn’t linear or always pleasant, but as Namir challenges himself and the listener, both get closer to finding their place in the unsettling now and uncertain tomorrow.”

There’s a stylistic tension found throughout the album. Metropolis features a disparate mix of boom-bap and trap, with elements of eclectic production found in producers like The Alchemist and even R.A.P. Ferreira.

The first track “Award Speech” sets a tone for the project as art rap. It contains heavy futuristic synths, minimalist drum programming, and arhythmic rhyming. The album then moves into “Mephisto,” which mixes some boom-bap drums into the art rap format. From there, the entire mood shifts dramatically on “Ride” and “Monday Michiru.” These go into the trap realm with complex hi-hat/kick patterns and synth drums. And this is where the tone largely stays for the rest of the album.

Blade’s rapping starts out slow, almost lazy and nonchalant. But then he settles into more traditional trap rhyming with plenty of triplet beats. The lyrics don’t represent trap music though. And the synth lines do lean into the futuristic realms with clear influence from composers like Vangelis and Tangerine Dream.

The song structures themselves are disarming at times. There isn’t verse, hook, verse, structure. Most songs are broken up into parts, with each part sounding significantly different from the last. This is so much so that I oftentimes thought the track had changed, only to be surprised that it was still the same song. Some tracks feature three or four parts that could easily be different songs altogether.

All of this begs the question, who is this album for? If you’re a hardcore boom-bap fan, you will be quickly turned off by the drum patterns. If you’re strictly into trap or radio rap, you won’t like his artistic flair, complex rhymes, or album concept. And backpack rap fans are going to struggle with understanding the overall tone of the album

And maybe this is the point. Namir Blade is not jazz-rap or boom-bap. He’s not paying homage to the 80’s or 90’s golden age of hip-hop. He’s not a Kanye mainstream art-rap acolyte. And he’s not fully trap or mumble-rap. Namir’s 2021 album Imaginary Everything was produced by L’Orange, but he sounds nothing like Solemn Brigham who partners with L’Orange on the dusty and nostalgic Marlowe project.  Even though he’s worked with Quelle Chris, he has a completely different style. Side note, I reviewed Chris’ excellent new album DEATHFAME. Read about it HERE.

In fact, his rapping and production style are different than most everyone else on the Mello Music roster, which include heavy hitters like Skyzoo, Oddisee, Kool Keith, and Open Mike Eagle. Namir Blade treads further into mainstream sounds than his compatriots but remains an outsider with his art-rap sensibilities and a sci-fi futuristic leaning.

So how can you best appreciate this album? Set aside expectations. Set aside a need for hard genre lines. Sit in the tension. Appreciate the production. Listen to the stories. Count the number of times he says “hoopty.” The lead single “Ride” is a love letter to his ancient car “Pull up in a 1990 do you wanna ride?”

If you want to venture into an interesting, unsettling, and ultimately rewarding hip-hop experience, be sure to check out Namir Blade’s Metropolis. Follow him on Instagram and steam the album HERE.

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