Nigel Bologna, better known by his handle NYGE, is dropping into the Houston music scene this week with a debut album appropriately titled 12 for the 12 tracks that make up its run time. For a first attempt, it's definitely worth a listen, with a few strokes here and there of real genius.
NYGE is a little hard to pigeonhole. Nominally this is a rap album and 80 percent of what you hear on it will be rapping. That said, it's not any sort of rap as Houston would normally define it. It's certainly not scene rap, if you get my drift. Instead, it tends to draw from other places a bit more esoteric.
Strings and electronica ambience play a large part in the production of 12 and in many ways are its main strength. It's not BLSHS or anything like that, but it's still a phenomenally pretty record that could have served as something of a branch between the harsher industrial wave in Houston at the turn of the century and the more ethereal sounds that are current now.
Songs like "Feel the Beat" are essentially dance tunes, weaving NYGE's penchant for catchy pop melodies and simple hooks together to generate effective earworms. Even when he's dropping a more traditional flow, as on the powerful opener "One Day," the Top 40 muscle of his backing tracks keeps the energy pumping nicely.
The downside of NYGE's work is its lightness. It's here that his chosen delivery of mostly rap fails the message since what he is saying is more catered to traditional pop. NYGE is probably not going to be on a list of Houston's greatest lyricists anytime soon. His concepts are simple; music can save you, believe in yourself and it gets better, trust the people you love, etc.
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Granted, these are concepts that make up the spine of great songs as well, but NYGE tends toward an almost naive directness that rarely manifests as brilliant turns of phrase. It's sincere as hell. I'll give you that. Listening to 12 is kind of like going to a really awesome nondenominational church. Everything NYGE says is empowering and wonderful, but the blade needs a whetstone.
The true standout on the record is "Verity." It's a really well-crafted song that uses NYGE's gift for pop musicality to bolster a deeper set of thoughts and phrases. Part of it is the duel between NYGE and his angel-voiced female guest-spot, but it's also just a really solidly built tune. It gets bigger and bigger as it goes is, and though it's still beholden to NYGE's tendency toward repetition, here it becomes chant-like and meditative. There's a magic to it.
If you want a jam that's good for some basic life-affirmation and a good dance around the bedroom, then 12 is perfect for you. Houston rap fans with a higher bar for lyrical gymnastics might not get what they are looking for, but the hooks, both musically and vocally, are there. Let's watch and see what they grow into.
NYGE plays the 12 release show Saturday, January 10 at Fitzgerald's with Currents and Coastlines, The Brothers Grymn, The Madmen Crew and Carpet and the Drapes.