Bohemian rapper/producer Jack Awful pushes his creativity to new limits on his latest album, And / Or.
When Saint John musician Josh Hicks made his debut as Jack Awful last year with the album Mopiest Loops, there was no way of knowing if the path he was plotting was the result of deliberate intention or pure innocence. His pairing of disjointed samples and looped phrases as a foundation for lyrical experimentation seemed to be on the verge of collapse at all times. But they never did, collapse that is. Despite withholding the type of familiarity and rhythmic security our ears naturally seek to gravitate towards, the great balancing act that was Mopiest Loops proved to be more than just happenstance for this emerging rapper/producer. As his latest release proves, Hicks’ production choices and lyrical delivery are nothing short of meticulous and calculated.
With the release of his latest album, And / Or, Hicks has fully established himself as a rap music producer. From catchy hooks that shift in key and rhythm to haunting vocal loops that act as improvised instruments, most of the experiments presented on his debut release have now become sonic signatures for Hicks, reassuring the stability and the intentions behind his work.
And / Or is the type of album that presents listeners with two paths to follow. There is the easy route – the one that involves pressing play and carrying on with your day – and then there is the more scrupulous direction – the one that involves a fastidious dissection of every phrase and transition. In this choose-your-own-adventure scenario, both paths offer satisfaction and fulfillment, regardless of your preferred means of interaction.
The song Breeze is a perfect example of Hicks’ unique compositional style fully realized. Layering a sampled guitar melody that swings like a ballroom dance number with a lazy yet focused drum pattern that moves forward with intention, Breeze appears to walk the line between focused intent and happy accident. But make no mistake. It’s all focused. It’s all intentional.
Full View is another example of Hicks’ clever approach to structure. Though both the beat and melody are introduced simultaneously on this mid-album track, the precise location of the “one”, or the downbeat that begins each phrase, is open to interpretation. It’s the kind of feel or flexibility we usually only find in larger ensembles. Jazz music in particular is littered with ahead of, on top of, or behind the beat liberties – yet Hicks has found a way to incorporate it into his own personal ensemble which is probably little more than a sampler and a macbook. In this scenario, the one amounts to One, oNe and onE, which combine to make ONE. Or, from another perspective, the oooonnnneeeee. Are you with me? Give it a listen and see if you can hear it.
To accompany his unique vision, Hicks’ takes an equally diverse approach to his lyrics with their delivery and their positioning as distinct as his sense of overall construction. Ranging from wide awake, off-beat introductions to half asleep deliveries, his range of execution runs the gamut from clear and intelligible to mumbled and perplexing, each an interpretation of highly personal moods and subjects.
“A lot of what I wanted to get across was the power of belief,” said Hicks, describing the album’s overall lyrical theme. “I always try to encrypt motivation in there. It touches on my personal experiences and tries to relate them to what other people might be going through. My goal is to be transparent and vulnerable whilst spreading a motivational message.”
The entire album, from lyrics to beats, could be summed up with the line taken from the second song, Atlantis:
“If I’m sizing up myself that’s cuz I’m trya hold my weight.”
With And / Or, it would seem Hicks is holding so much more.
And / Or arrives February 4 on Bandcamp Friday. Mark this one on your calendar and swing by today to check out the first few singles, Atlantis, Poppin’ Off and Do-Re-Mi.