Charles DaBeast released his first album, Patience, in 2015. The production is largely sample-based and the verses are methodically written out. We get more verse than hook. But that was in high school. Since then, he has been recruited to play soccer at the collegiate level, torn his ACL, transferred, recovered, and is now in talks with a handful of Division 1 schools. But in the time between tearing his ACL and getting re-scouted, he made a second album, 3AM In Banner Elk.
This sophomore project shows a development in his sound. Rather than spitting writtens, he mostly listened to music, allowed it to influence him, and then freestyled lines which he would later refine with an engineer. Beat wise, he divorced himself from samples employing instead completely original production. I guess you could say that rather than approaching a track with a vibe in mind, he let the vibe come to him and then just ran with it.
I think this shift was beneficial to his overall value as an artist. While, in today’s hip hop climate, it may seem counter intuitive to claim that taking a looser approach to the creative process makes an artist more unique, I think for Charles it did just that. I say that because, despite shifting to this free-form technique, he maintained the subject matter he explored in his written verses. This made for an idyllic hybrid of each style, employing both the more intellectual content and the accessible style.
That said, I think this approach is not dissimilar to that of a home run hitter. In constantly swinging for the fences, they miss more often than usual, but when they connect the ball is sent soaring. The reason I say this is because 3AM In Banner Elk has more misses than Patience. But it also has more home runs. And I think, at least in hip hop, its more advantageous to have a few home runs than a bunch of doubles. I don’t really know if the same is true about Baseball, but really this metaphor should be a soccer one, so it was doomed from the start. In any event, I’d like to a highlight a few of the home runs. A highlight reel if you will.
The first I’ll speak on is “No Tears.” I love that piano riff that starts out in the spotlight only to fade into the mix of the layered production. And then those first couple lines are delivered so smuggly its hard not to get hyped. In the verses we get some pretty intimate biographical information, which I always appreciate: “I ain’t cried in a year or so / That’s how life goes.” But beyond that, we get insight into the specifics of his life, including his experiences as a red-shirted athlete and an upcoming hip hopper. I also laugh every time I hear the clip “You’re going fifteen miles per hour, for FIFTEEN MILES!” to which the driver responds “I’m going 20.”
The next track of interest is “Michelin Man (I’m Tired)” if for no other reason than the pun of being tired and being tires. I also enjoy the message: enough with these Hypebeast half-ass rappers and the oblivious fans who egg them on. Tracks like “In My 626,” “No Designer,” and “Don’t Hit My Line,” make me laugh because they parody the content most rappers using this style cover.
On “In My 626” Charles boasts about his car, but it’s not McLaren or anything like that, its a Mazda. And what he raps about isn’t ghost riding or anything like that, he talks about charging people for gas money, emphasizing how strapped for cash he really is.
Similarly, “No Designer” takes the concept of high fashion and tells it to fuck off over a triumphant beat. The message of the track is best summarized by the opening ad libs: “I don’t spend more than like 50 in the store tho. I mean it depends on the store but… no more than like 50. And I love shopping as Ross Dawg.”
And then “Don’t Hit My Line” mocks those trappers who encourage listeners to hit their line so they can keep their business popping. Charles is not about that life, and would prefer it if you left him alone so he can focus on getting done what he needs to do. A refreshingly practical approach to cell phones.
Of course, this is just a sampling of the full project. But I think these tracks capture the point I’m trying to make, that 3AM In Banner Elk is the white whale I’ve been searching for, something that sounds like the infectiously catchy hip hop of today, without compromising on content. It is unclear what will happen to Charles’ music as he makes his return to soccer. As of now, he plans to continue to pursue both. Here’s hoping he will be able to give both the attention they demand.