For Fans Of
Hip-hop is a genre that always seems to be in some state of flux. Trends take form, artists come and go, and tastes shift, often in dramatic ways. From the early days of the ’70s, to the (supposed) downright blasphemy that is mumble rap in today’s culture, the genre has evolved and branched out into so many directions over the last few decades. A recent trend that has appeared in the last couple of years has been the emergence of what many like to call “emo-rap” – a blend of moodier sounds and emotional lyricism with hip-hop and RnB influences. Many artists have seemingly appeared from nowhere in this genre, pushing themselves to the mainstream by showing off some noteworthy talent (the late Lil Peep, Joji, and of course, nothing,nowhere.). However, there is still some real gold to be found within the mines of underground emo-rap of late. A major example of this is the sonically incredible collaborative album from thebreathingbackwards and Brody Mckeegan, ‘blackheartemoji‘. Their joint LP has surfaced onto my social media since it’s release in November, and upon finally giving it a listen, I discovered that it just might be one of my favourite emo-rap releases so far.
With Brody producing and creating the music and with thebreathingbackwards bringing the vocals and lyrics (while still working together on the piece as a whole), ‘blackheartemoji‘ was destined to succeed from the very beginning. Both of these musicians have incredible talent, all nicely shown off across most of these 13 songs. The ambient guitar work, dark production, and well-produced instrumentation is simple but always effective, as the riffs are beautiful and haunting throughout. Particularly, ‘no fair‘, which features a highly addictive musical bed-rock that is hard to forget, as its main riff just sings itself right into the depths of your soul. ‘morning light‘, in a solid change in pace, is significantly more upbeat than the rest of the LP. This track bounces with a groove that pushes it high into my personal ranking for one of the best songs off ‘blackheartemoji‘. No small feat given the solid nature of the record.
Meanwhile, songs like ‘block‘ and ‘characters‘ stray towards more traditional hip-hop instrumentals, exploding with overwhelming themes of anger and frustration. This pair both feature conflicting lyrical themes about wanting to write lyrics to feel the catharsis of getting the actual words out, but then also hating having to feel the pain of reliving the moments that inspire said songs. ‘thorns‘ is a fan favourite, and the stand out ballad overall, sounding like a pure love song with heartfelt lyricism and gorgeous, atmospheric guitars. “I might love to much, I lose myself in your touch/I swear I’m fighting my fears,” states thebreathingbackwards, describing the feeling of loving someone so much and wanting anything but to ruin it. This particular line comes from the bridge of the song, which has a deep toned guitar riff that contrasts with the lighter themes of the rest of the piece, creating possibly one of my favourite sections on the entire record.
The lyricism that drives ‘blackheartemoji‘, while familiar in tone and topic to other artists in the genre, comes off as very heartfelt, And it’s easy to tell that they do come from a real place of pain. They aren’t sad just for the sake of being sad either, rather, they feel like they actually serve a purpose and are easy to connect with too. ‘never again‘ displays an intense feeling of hopelessness and desperation, with lines like “if you put me up before my mothers eyes right now I bet you that she’d cry/her only sons a broken fucking mess and she just don’t know why” being gripping and then some. There are many emotional moments like this throughout ‘blackheartemoji‘ that genuinely made me have to pause for a minute and say: “goddamnit, I felt that shit hard”. This is one of the many genius aspects about this record. While the lyrics are written about very specific situations in the life of thebreathingbackwards, it’s so easy for the listener to not only understand where he’s coming from, but have these songs evoke similar feelings within them.
‘blackheartemoji‘ also has a multitude of features spread over the run-time, with some really working and some not so much, sadly. Jay Vee’s feature on the music and production of ‘somebody new‘ is one of the best features I’ve heard in this genre, and easily makes it a personal favourite of mine. Shinigami also has a fantastic feature on ‘too long‘, lending a pop-punkish, Blink-182-like vocal style to the song. However, there are a couple guest features that fall kinda flat. Particularly, something about Guardin’s feature on ‘what i am‘ just doesn’t quite work. It just feels a little off, not connecting with the overall tone of the track. As much as I personally love guccihighwaters, I also wasn’t a very big fan of his feature on ‘fucking up‘, and that bums me out. Because I love his voice, but he would’ve sounded great on pretty much any other track found here other than ‘fucking up‘.
Lastly, the vocals on ‘blackheartemoji‘ are beautifully executed in most parts – delivered perfectly for the range of emotions they summon up. However, thebreathingbackwards or Brody have chosen to auto tune the vocals in certain parts, and this is my main gripe with the record. It bothers me because thebreathingbackwards has such an incredible voice that it doesn’t even need auto tune to sound fantastic. It’s obviously been added for a certain artistic effect, to take part in a core element of the genre, and while I get that, it does somewhat get in the way at times. Another thing I’m not too into is the album’s length, being thirteen songs long in total. There’s a couple of tracks that just aren’t anywhere near the high level of quality as the rest of their peers. With songs like ‘burn you down‘, ‘what i am‘, and ‘fucking up‘ potentially getting the axe and probably improving the album more so.
All up, ‘blackheartemoji’ stands out as one of the best records I’ve heard in the budding genre of emo-rap thus far – it is essentially everything that it sets out to be. Most of the songs on this new record are memorable in their own right, but songs like ‘somebody new’ and ‘morning light’ are hopefully bound to take the scene by raging storm soon enough, being some of the best emo-rap compositions of the whole year. It’s a real shame that this album hasn’t gotten the attention that it so sorely deserves, but I truly hope that changes damn soon. For Brody Mckeegan and thebreathingbackwards totally deserve the recognition that is no doubt coming to them for this LP.
burn you down
what i am
where i belong
‘blackheartemoji’ is out now.