Subgenres on top of subgenres is the name of the game for the ever-so-fickle landscape of electronic music, where it seems as though every new release brings a new classification that would leave even Darwin and Linnaeus in a state of discombobulation. However, a prominent subgenre that has managed to maintain its relevance through the years is trap: an electronic genre built to satisfy the hip-hop lover’s palate with its bass-heavy 808 kicks fused alongside hard-hitting electronic synths. After exploding onto the scene in 2012 with a game-changing remix of Kanye West’s “Mercy,” Henry Steinway, colloquially known as RL Grime, has arguably grown into trap’s leading ambassador. Just two years later, we now stand on the heels of the release of RL Grime’s debut album, which, though a departure from his usual grimy, club-friendly trap sound, puts his talent, versatility and growth as an artist on grand display.
For those who have followed RL Grime and his work, it would be more than an understatement to be completely taken aback by the first two tracks on the record. “Always” is number one on the docket, a chillstep-inspired lullaby complete with skylarking synths and soothing drum-and-bass undertones led by scintillating hi-hats, rounded out with an eerily hypnotic, modulated female vocal. Next up is a collaboration with prominent acid house producer Boys Noize, “Danger,” which borrows the groovy sounds of deep house and fuses it with Boys Noize’s signature distorted synth. From the moment the play button is pressed, it is made clear that “VOID” is going to be more than merely a collection of 12 consecutive festival-friendly trap bangers that RL Grime has become synonymous with over the years.
That’s not to say that “VOID” doesn’t contain its fair share of hard-hitters, though. “Scylla” brings back RL Grime’s trademark brass horn synths and massive 808s. “Valhalla” deceives listeners with a drum-and-bass intro and break section leading into a drop that will leave you completely blindsided. “Core” redefines “dropping the bass” with the melody taking a backseat to the 808s that pack enough of a punch to easily blow out subwoofers.
RL Grime truly saves the best for last with my personal favorite on the record: “Golden State.” It’s a fitting title for a melodic track with its bright but powerful synths backed by a heavy low end.
Perhaps one of the worst decisions Steinway made with “VOID” was to include “Kingpin” in the final cut. What begins as a promising track with its subtle, yet ominous synth-play and bass quickly turns sour when rapper Big Sean lays down his lethargic, uninspired flow topped off with run-of-the-mill formulaic hip-hop lyrics such as: “Counting foreign money bitch, I scream rich / I’m with foreign girls who don’t speak English.”
Although “VOID” is a testament to RL Grime’s versatility as an artist, the lack of cohesiveness in the album as a whole is a weakness that cannot go unnoticed. With such diversity in styles and sounds, “VOID” is more of a disjointed sample platter of Steinway’s arsenal, rather than a complete musical journey that listeners have come to expect from album releases.
“VOID” serves as a very solid debut album worth a front-to-back listen from a rapidly rising star in electronic music. Though slightly hindered by one weak track and a lack of synergy, RL Grime’s versatility as an artist truly shines on the record nevertheless, which shows that “genre” is nothing but a word to Henry Steinway.
Rating: 4 stars