Back in late January, Rocks Off introduced you to Houston underground MC Rel The Chosen, a highly lyrical individual who favors soulful beats.
Here's the Reader's Digest version of what we wrote about his debut project, Beautiful Music, nearly seven months ago:
"Calling it Beautiful Music was accurate. This rock-solid 17-track display indeed samples beautiful, soulful music with the majority of the mixtape's beats driving jazzy, silky-smooth, sometimes melancholy melodies, which Rel uses as his backdrop to some restive and elbowing lyrical wordplay."
Saturday Rel supported Das EFX at the opening of Houston's newest venue, Underground Live, and a few weeks ago dropped his follow-up project, Beautiful Music 2.
Rocks Off's Shea Serrano once talked about listening to Preemo's Flight 713, which followed the heralded Concrete Dreams, with "squinted eyes and pursed lips," for the same reason football players fear sophomore slumps and movie enthusiasts dread sequels. We felt him - you almost tense up, because you have questions, but will you like the answers?
Rel's Beautiful Music was successful, not because Rel was the first to sample an Al Green cut and lace it with rap - because he's not - but his project was the first we'd heard that truly owned soul from an underground hip-hop standpoint and said, "This is my turf. This is where I'm going to operate. This is my house. I dare you to live here, like I can."
Eighty-five percent of Beautiful was soul, and Rel showed incredible substance and an ability to rap at a high level. We're going to say it: At times, he can rap as good as any underground Houston artist.
But how would Beautiful Music 2 differ? How would it evolve? How would Rel evolve?
Despite our throughly enjoying Beautiful, there is a redundancy in Rel's tempo. He doesn't stray from his lyrical rhythm much, nor the beat selection in terms of the genre where it comes from. This isn't going to be a Kanye experience with lots of variation. And let's keep it 100, too much of a good thing isn't good. Or is it?
Depending on your hip-hop preferences, and we hate to say it, but also depending on your age, Rel's either an acquired taste or he'll immediately grab you and never let you go. We'd like to say more so the latter. In all honesty, it took a good few listens of Beautiful before we got the "ah-ha" moment. After, it was like our speakers became Scorpion in Mortal Kombat ... "Get over here!"
But could he keep Rocks Off in his grasp with Beautiful 2? Our favorite tracks from the follow-up:
The verdict is that Beautiful 2 doesn't evolve, but when you call your first project beautiful and you meet that standard the first and second time, that's OK as hell. This is probably one of the only times you'll read that the lack of evolution is a good thing, because, quite simply, it is in this case.
In Beautiful Music 2, Rel sticks to what he's good at: Flexing his lyrical muscles in a room full of vinyl. He's Al Green with his shirt off on the cover of that memorable greatest hits album, but with an Astros fitted on.
You could read Rocks Off's first review of Rel and it would read the same here: Rel's beasting on top of '70s soul works and continues to. Line up Beautiful 1 and 2 and it's going to feel like a lot of the same, except to the die-hard Rel fan.
At the same time, you can line up all of our "3 a.m. after-the-club moments" and they'll also feel like a lot of the same: Whataburger. Never looked down upon. And Rel's Beautiful 2 might be Houston underground's hip-hop #2 with cheese.
But on the no-evolution tip, that's not to say Beautiful 2 doesn't elevate. It does. Beautiful 2 feels fresher than its predecessor, maybe even a bit more sophisticated, but by a hair. It certainly doesn't overshadow the original.
Kind of like comparing a #1 and #2 at Whataburger. The latter just has one more patty, but they'll both give you your fill.
The moral of the story is that Rel got in where he fit in. And we're right there with him, Whatasizing our hip-hop collection with something beautiful.
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Email Rolando Rodriguez at rolandorodriguezjr22 at gmail dot com.