Friday, May 21, 2021

Attack Of the Weirdo: Fatboi Sharif

Look what I just got my hands on: the second album by Fatboi Sharif, this time with producer/ partner Roper Williams (who also had a track on Ape Twin).  Well, "second album" in terms of what's made it to actual, physical releases.  If you dig into his bandcamp, he's got several additional digital releases.  But as any regular readers of this blog can tell you: mp3s don't exist.  So by my count this is album #2.

Anyway, this one's titled Gandhi Loves Children, presumably a reference to the unfortunate revelations about the less public-facing side of the beloved icon's life.  It's a line from the album's opening track, "Tragic," which poignantly spells out the many sad ironies of our generations' lives, "Nazi amusement, Columbine shooting, race stunted, depressed, raped woman, T.W.A. Flight 800... Malcolm X' achievements uneven, Nancy Benoit let's have a family meeting, slave plantation for nine days, waiting for Kanye, Paul Walker on the highway!"

Yes, as you can see, the inscrutable listicle song-writing of his last EP is back, which can feel a little frustrating, like thoughts aren't allowed to fully develop and flow into each other as whole ideas.  It's a distinct and not ineffective style, but the parade of non-sequiturs and pop culture references ("cartel crime, Dark Man kind, Attack Of the Jack-O'-Lanterns, RL Stine") can run a little long.  Depending on your state of mind, it can be a pro or a con that sure footing his hardly found in this collection of free-floating, seemingly stream of conscious topics.  Songs seem like they're just loosely connected by themes.  "Nasty Man" is nothing more than a fun excuse to spit some dirty bars ("sex with an obese female makes my mind sick, swallow blood, spit out a quick John Wick, Sounds of Blackness, bible chapters, what the hell, came back as grape Sour Patch Kids, deep in a Volvo, horny, bitch named Bulimia throws up on me"), while "I'm Buggin'" seems to just be an exercise in saying the wildest shit possible ("pedophile brain surgeon, untamed moment, Malcolm X and Jeffery Dahmer's the same person").  "Fly Pelican" makes a terrific-sounding hook out of a classic Cuban Link/ Beatnuts guest spot, but I'm not sure if it has any significance besides sounding cool.  "Murder Them" stands out as a particularly powerful track about violent retribution against police brutality, but nothing else is as focused.

I don't want to make a habit of complimenting one artist by throwing shade at another, but Fatboi is sort of the artist I hoped Bizarre was going to be when he first came out with Attack Of the Weirdos.  He's in that intellectually lyrical Young Zee-mode of assembling complex word schemes you'd never have thought could sound so good together.  He's definitely got the fantastic imagery influence of the Cella Dwellas, too; but he mixes it with a personal earnestness.  In a lot of ways, from the superficial look he's got on the album cover, shirtless with the crazy female wig, to the substantive, with his open wound delivery, he really is in Bizarre's ideal lane: a (more than) slightly demented poet with a dark, twisted sensibility teetering on multiple edges at once.  But where Biz would slip into simple bars, easy punchlines and predictable subject matter that more often than not let down the expectations he'd set up (every topic devolving into random blowjob descriptions and still making Eminem/ Mariah Carey references in the 2020s), Sharif never takes the easy roads.  Instead of feeling like he banged out an entire album in 24 hours, it feels like Sharif spent months slaving over this project and honing each moment.

[In fairness to Bizarre, I have to say that while writing this, I spent the last couple days diving through Bizarre's music videos, as I hadn't really followed his solo work in a long time.  And the stuff he's been doing for the last year or two seems considerably better than what he'd been coasting on for the past 7-10 years.  Some of his new stuff's intriguing and I might wind up back on board as a Biz fan.]

Anyway, like on Ape Twin, Sharif just has a couple of guests: two relatively unknown MCs, YL and Pootie, and somewhat surprisingly, NY underground's L.I.F.E. Long. All three do an equally good job of adding some variety to the project while still fitting in smoothly enough that they never disturb the tone of the album.  Pootie comes the closest, but none of them manage to outshine their host.  Stylistically, I'd say Sharif's mastered the game as far as it can go (though never say never, let's see what he comes up with in the future!), but content-wise, I'd like to see him dig a little deeper into some cohesive subject matter, at least sometimes.  I'd hate to lose the madcap freestyle rhymes!  And he's already making songs to rival the top guys in the industry, so there's really nothing to complain about.

That includes Roper Williams' production, which is perfect.  I mean, first it's just objectively really good.  But it's also an ideal match for Sharif's flow, a rich soundscape that sweeps through a wide range of tones.  There's a killer instrumental short called "Xavenstein" where I'm only sorry that we didn't get to hear an MC ride it.  That's one of two tracks that aren't full songs, though none of them are very long.  The average length is two minutes, which might almost be annoying (ending before you'd like them to) if each song didn't transition so naturally into the next.  And it's not because they're radio blended or otherwise forced into each other mixtape-style.  They've clearly put a lot of care into the sequencing, turning this into a real album and not just a collection of songs that happened to be recorded in the same period.

Gandhi Loves Children is of course downloadable as a digital release via all the usual channels, but it's also available on CD, which comes in a stylish digipack that you can order here, or on cassette, which I believe is only available directly through the artistApe Twin was an exciting debut of a clearly talented young artist, but this is a more fully realized project that belongs in anybody's collection.