88rising is a media conglomerate that’s been methodically sowing seeds of future brand-dominance, with bombastic SoundCloud rapper collaborations (Ski Mask the Slump God), meme-to-musician re-inventions (Rich Chigga and Pink Guy becoming Rich Brian and Joji), and now a debut compilation album of transparent intent: Head in the Clouds is a breezy playlist of summer songs meant to highlight all its artists’ various strengths. The result, however, conjures images of an algae bloom: a perplexing, unwieldy set of emotionally mismatched songs that occasionally hit, but more often swing and miss, and then keep swinging — because why not? Relevance in the rap game is supposedly fleeting, so striking while the iron is hot on these viral-artists makes sense. And the best tracks here do capitalize on the magic that made Higher Brothers’ 2017 single “Made in China” an evergreen hit: get relative unknowns with an insane amount of talent in a room with another artist who can nearly out-weird them (on “Made in China,” that was Famous Dex).
But while the formula works early on in Head in the Clouds, with an 03 Greedo feature — practically dripping swag — matched by Higher Brothers’ MaSiWei’s luxurious flow and DZ’s impassioned shouting (“Swimming Pools”), it’s an formula that quickly gets tired, with the label arranging for collabs/remixes from BlocBoy JB, Goldlink, Phum Viphurit, and (in Rich Brian’s case) Playboy Carti. The apotheosis of this capitalist laziness can be summarized by a quick listen to “Japan 88,” a remix of the Famous Dex song, featuring the largely unknown Verbal and the only appearance of 88rising’s Keith Ape, who cannot hope to match the zany repetitive fireworks of the remixed hook. On the other hand, “Midsummer Madness” might be the real “song of the summer” that every track here is clearly intended to be — with its large cast of 88’s own situated against, and complimenting, each other, it’s an anomaly on an album where most of these performers tend to have zero chemistry. While there’s a promising verse here and there from Rich Brian (who develops a Mac Miller-like sing-song flow on “History”) and some lighthearted winking with the mere presence of a BlocBoy-Joji duet (“Peach Jam”), the rest is a sonically clashing hodgepodge. R&B singer Niki’s anthemic “Warpaint” illustrates this, being a clear B-side from her recent EP, with anachronistic production so meticulous and sterile that Katy Perry might be jealous.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 1