Medhane's latest is an immaculately produced album with high vocal energy, great lyrics and a very strong, cohesive sound.
Medhane is one of hip-hop’s many current hard workers, having four albums and an EP since 2019. Do The Math is the latest from the New York rapper who first became known for his collaboration with producer Slauson Malone (now of Standing on the Corner fame), Medslaus.
The two released a great EP (Greys in Yellow) and an even better album (Poorboy) before going their separate ways. Thankfully, both artists continued to work alone and continued to follow their own equally unique styles. Slauson Malone now produces truly groundbreaking records that are consistently unlike anything else being released at the moment, and Medhane appears to be stepping away from the sLuMs group which he built his foundations from as he takes some of their traits and leaves behind some others – such as the gorgeous soul samples peppered all over this record (partially produced by Medhane himself) and the absence of many of the names involved with sLuMs.
In fact, across this album’s 18 tracks, there are only three features. One from the gentle and beautiful Navy Blue, one from the more underground Wiki and one from the generally lesser known half of rap duo Armand Hammer, Elucid. This odd variation of these three features suggests Medhane’s unique position in underground American hip-hop at the moment – it is one of friends in high and notably separate places, all with their lengthy links to one another by association that can be hard to keep up with. Elucid’s feature on ‘Puzzleguts’ is absolutely wonderful, as he is backed by an extremely minimal beat that allows all focus to go to his lyrics and the grit to his voice that has been with him since the beginning of his career.
As was said earlier, the majority of these beats involved flips of obscure soul samples, looped for your pleasure by a range of great producers. The jazzy drum beats and the generally minimal use of bass makes these beats stand out further, and in spite of the variation in producers on the album it maintains a cohesive sound which contributes a great deal to the memorability of the album overall. The beautiful chaos of the instrumental on ‘Night Vision Goggles’, a track characterised by layered vocals, a stunning soul sample set on loop and wild but minimal moments from other instruments (such as simple riffs on keyboards, synthesisers and more, including vocal adlibs) is a great example of the overall form of the record. It is undeniably mellow and consistently beautiful with light and bubbly textures everywhere, but at the same time it has a slight hardcore appeal with the energy of Medhane’s verses and the chaotic layering of a wide range of instruments. The production here is just spectacular across the board, juggling an intense amount of nuanced sounds and holding itself together under that sonic pressure.
Admittedly, the lyrics don’t often have anything too new to say but the focus is more so on the way things are said. Mental health and its crossover with the lifestyles of hip-hop creators has become a key focus in the underground hip-hop scene over the last few years especially, so there are increasingly fewer ways to speak on topics surrounding mental health that feel new and fresh but Medhane and his chosen featured artists do manage to dig deep surprisingly often. Navy Blue’s feature verse on ‘No Sugar’ is beautiful, as he explains his attempts to “wash my sins away with baby steps” which becomes all the more moving when followed by Medhane’s especially intense and emotional verse on ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ when he delves deep into his own emotional struggles.
On that track, Medhane says “A couple scars on my flesh, acting like there ain’t a heart in my chest (…), we’re doing more than the rest”, sticking to this album’s theme of expressing struggle but being strong in the face of them regardless. The real surprise of the record comes to the end, for me, with the ’24hrs (Interlude)’ and the four tracks that follow it which step into a more quiet and poignant direction. ’24hrs’ muffled Medhane’s voice almost beyond recognition, bringing forward the gentle orchestral and xylophone(!) based instrumental as Medhane digitally speaks on “Making do with what we made it do”. Similarly to Navy Blue’s strikingly beautiful album Navy’s Reprise from earlier in 2021, the last few tracks on Do the Math fuse together that emotional edge and deeply personal intimacy with more sparse, soul-influenced instrumentals that create a feeling of bittersweet comfort more than anything else – as if reflecting on a now lost childhood; better days now unattainable. It’s a gorgeous, arresting finale to a fantastic and moving album.
Do the Math is distributed by Never Panicking. Listen to the record on SoundCloud below: