The Brooklyn rapper has a reputation for emulating Earl Sweatshirt’s brutal atmospherics and determined flow, but what sets him apart is the emotional precision he brings to his debut EP.
The spirit of Earl Sweatshirt infuses Medhane’s small body of work, it’s true. You can feel his presence in the cracked beats, brutal atmospherics, internal rhyme patterns, and in Medhane’s stodgy, determined flow. Hell, I’ve been sending links to the rising Brooklyn rapper’s first EP, Ba Suba, Ak Jamm, to confirmed Earl fans myself. But, just as Action Bronson arrived in a haze of Ghostface Killah comparisons before his individuality revealed itself, listening to Medhane on repeat makes it obvious that he hasn’t simply heisted Earl’s style. There’s a specificity to his writing that sets him apart from the pack of rappers, like Sweatshirt, who’ve emerged from MF DOOM’s corner of the underground rap furnace.
Over six tracks packed tightly into 13 minutes, Medhane soulfully examines what it means to earn your keep in America and to find your purpose in life when you’re at the bottom of the capitalist crush. These are heavy topics, but there’s a richness and an emotional precision to his language that makes every angle explored feel authentic and relatable. It helps that Medhane is so resonant on the mic. In a voice that’s bled dry and grainy, he imbues his flow with a stoic determination; he has little interest in checking too many stylistic boxes or engaging in super-technical rappity-rap.
“Days” sees Medhane spitting over a string arrangement so deeply screwed, it could have originated in a George Martin recording session. Lines like “The weight of the world was heavy on my aching back/Trying to keep my soul straight and my faith intact” capture the trying nature of the daily grind with a refreshing directness. Medhane talks of being overworked for low wages on “Garden” and hopes that a decent payday is right around the corner on “AiteDen.” This is music for stalking the subway, headphones plugged in, on that cold journey home from a thankless job. He sounds like a young man whose next step always feels tantalizingly close and miles away at once.
Ba Suba, Ak Jamm is loaded with sentiments like this. Only in his early 20s, Medhane is an expert at capturing the feeling of being run down by this wicked thing called life. This isn’t desperation, exactly; it’s an everyday bitterness that most people can understand. Though he doesn’t feel the need to stud his bars with too much overt autobiographical detail, there’s personalization in how Medhane weaves his family into narratives. When kin make appearances in rap music, songs tend to get caught up in “Dear Mama”-style whimsy. But here, Medhane raps about his family like they’re simply omnipresent figures in his life: the aunt who gave him a meal when he needed it (“Garden”), the mother he deeply respects (“MedTypeBeat!”). Lyrics read as though lifted from dilapidated diary pages.
The beats are warped and wavy throughout the EP, adding a thickness to its climate—and with almost no hooks to be found, this is hip-hop stripped of any pop inclinations. But, as heavy as this all may sound, the record’s brevity gives it infinite replay potential. Music is often dubbed “depressing” because it uses downbeat chords. But Ba Suba, Ak Jamm is a reminder that music is one of the least depressing things in a universe that’s extremely cursed. Sometimes it’s grim, because life is often grim. When a young guy like Medhane so concisely captures that quality, the effect can be unexpectedly beautiful.
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