BrothaMans, a local hip-hop artist and producer who’s spent the past few years peppering the internet with singles, freestyles, and EPs, is set to release his debut album, Chapter 1, this summer, and contacted me a few months ago to propose an advance listen and write-up. I readily agreed, and then May hit.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve taken four trains and four planes, driven 500 miles, and walked close to 70. I’ve breathed air in Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, Fort Lauderdale (albeit stagnant terminal air only), New Orleans, Orlando, and Philadelphia. Work is stressful, and people keep shooting each other on the news. It’s been a slog trying to gather words in my own head, much less put them down on a page in any discernable order.
A few days ago, while wallowing in my own fatigue and apathy, I received a follow-up from BrothaMans asking about my take on Chapter 1. My first reaction was panic: I have to come up with coherent thoughts about a piece of art when I can’t even remember what day it is! Funny enough, though, BrothaMans’s music acted as a much-needed kick in the ass. The guy never slows down, and his tenacity is contagious, even when transmitted through cheap earbuds. So, here are some words about Chapter 1.
BrothaMans has always been a bit of a chameleon, equally at home flowing over glowed-up synth-funk or moody, spooky trap. He can spit, he can sing; he can stunt, he can serenade. Over time, his music has grown more melodic and atmospheric, and that trend continues on Chapter 1.
The album contains ten tracks steeped in lush, drifting synths and subdued drums, with BrothaMan mostly sticking to auto-tuned, melodic vocals. It’s like Travis Scott sipping kava tea while wandering through a water garden. Lyrically, the subject matter is introspective and often romantic, focusing on themes of honesty, artifice, communication, and healing.
Dreamy opener “Escape” uses gentle plunks of melody and cinematic strings to conjure a protective bubble in which BrothaMans exists for the duration of the album, allowing space only for a few trusted others; “I just want some peace,” he sighs, exhausted. From there, he spends time nurturing his relationship with a significant other on tracks like the passionate “Mind Reader,” the fluttering, prickly “Over,” the soothing “Soul Food,” and the glitchy “Arcade.” On quieter tracks like these, the percussion seems to bubble rather than bump, and BrothaMans uses the tranquil vibes to his advantage, pledging honesty, clarity, and devotion while asking for reciprocity of the same. The ballads steer clear of naivety while remaining hopeful; there’s turmoil present, but the tone stays open and forgiving.
Chapter 1 contains a few points at which BrothaMans shifts into a more intense gear. The beat on “Chillin (Over Again)” features 2s and 4s that crack like snapped tree branches, “Living Legend,” addresses heavy questions of legacy and mortality, and the ferocious single “Make It Out” finds BrothaMans deploying gasping, tumbling flows as he seeks patience and humility while trapped in a maze of artificial flash; “Fuck a chain, finna buy a house,” he snarls. These bursts of energy function like heart monitor spikes, stirring the album’s otherwise calm waters and providing contrast to its more narcotic moments.
Two tracks situated near the end of Chapter 1 distill its spirit most clearly. On the nocturnal “Tonight,” BrothaMans’s voice hovers amidst glistening swatches of melody, his words focusing on imagery and feel rather than narrative. “It’s going down on the East Side,” he murmurs, adding, “Tonight we leveled up” and “We just wanna keep the peace.” Closer “IDK,” a creeping bounce that first surfaced a while back on the Invalid EP, finds BrothaMans paranoid and brooding, channeling his inner 808s and Heartbreak as he despairs, “I’ve been down this road before/I don’t even know anymore.” Despite his collaborative spirit and his interest in the subtleties of relationships, BrothaMans is a loner at heart, and these two tracks find him in his element, pondering and vibing his way through a difficult and sometimes ugly world, in search of elevation.