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Lil Reek - The Graduation Music Album Reviews

Lil Reek - The Graduation Music Album Reviews

The debut from the amazing, helium-huffing Atlanta rapper features production from Brodinski and a grip of other European producers that makes it a standout among the city’s rising stars.

Late last year, a pairing like the teenaged Atlanta rapper Lil Reek and 31-year old French producer Brodinski would not have been able to stir up any significant conversation within the Atlanta rap scene. At the time, Metro Boomin had 10 damn songs on the Billboard Hot 100 and it was the high point of an era where it felt like every rapper’s trajectory was to graduate from their beatmakers and land in the laps of the super producers like Metro Boomin, 808 Mafia, Mike WiLL Made-It, etc. But rap moves fast and now there’s an environment where rappers are expected to build with their producers. A debut mixtape like The Graduation from an artist with buzz like Lil Reek is appealing because an Atlanta rap project with a sound rooted both in the city and trance-inducing French electro music in the past would have been cast aside for more traditional records.

In the few months since Brodinski inspired him to give the booth a try, Reek has become a rapper who can seemingly flow over anything. The off-kilter production on The Graduation—handled mostly by European producers Brodinski, Mister Tweeks, and Ikaz Boi—is filled with uncanny pauses and buildups that usually come before major drops on EDM tracks. The intro, “Rock Out,” shouldn’t be easy to rap over: It’s a couple of tweaks away from belonging in a Mad Decent DJ set. But Reek catches the beat effortlessly and blinds you from the fact that it’s not a typical South Atlanta instrumental.

Lil Reek is fun and that feeling is elevated because of how little we know about his rapping ability, everything is a surprise. His voice is odd, pre-pubescent but also slightly raspy, similar to rising Atlanta rapper Young Nudy. On the airy standout “Blind Man”—featuring the album’s sole acceptable guest verse from Atlanta’s songwriting wizard Key!—Reek leans into his voice and adds a smidge of Auto-Tune, hitting a smooth and controlled melody. And then when he wants to, he strips down his voice and lets his South Atlanta accent and hoarse inflection loose like on “Drip”—the closest Brodinski comes to making a straightforward Atlanta trap beat.

The mixtape also serves a purpose beyond being a rap debut, as it’s a reward to Reek from himself for recently graduating high school. He never does capture the celebratory vibe that he set out to create, apparent by the description of the project’s meaning he gave Mass Appeal, “Dedicated to everything that I done worked for, please 13 years in school...it’s most definitely gonna be a lit graduation.” Producers like Brodinski would have been capable of creating more grand production to represent the party-like feel of a graduation, which ultimately is a good decision because the slightly darker tone makes it easier to assimilate the music into Atlanta’s rap circle. Reek also uses the opportunity on “Im Back” to reflect on his strange last couple of months where he unexpectedly had to balance the life of a high school senior while also being a budding rap star, which is a let down because Belgian producer Mister Tweeks isn’t able to balance that South Atlanta rawness with the European flash like Brodinski and strays too far into the world of electronic music.

The Graduation is accessible enough where a single can be posted on WorldStarHipHop without the comments being flooded with Future avatars saying “What the fuck is this?” Lil Reek had to make sure that the tape was a sufficient introduction that established himself as a young presence in an Atlanta rap scene that is overwhelmingly competitive and critical. It’s a project that is impressive because at the risk of being ostracized as an alternative rapper—which would unfairly put a ceiling over the endless potential of Reek—he paired with Brodinski and other European producers to create an album that displayed how to standout in Atlanta without being excessive. Two years ago, a rapper from Atlanta with this much raw ability would have been surely scooped up by Metro or Southside by now and put under their wing, but now the mixtape has a unique has a place in the city: a young artist who will make both the Southern rap purists and trend-seekers for a brief moment get along.

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