Published Mar 31, 2015Prologue, the new EP released by Vancouver rapper Cityreal, begins with faint drum taps that sound like a heart murmur. That haunting sonic backdrop sets the tone for an excerpt of a speech by Dr. Gabor Mate, the doctor, author and public speaker renowned for his 12-year stint aiding addicts in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The expert's insights on poverty and addiction serve as a fitting intro, framing the sociological themes that Cityreal attempts to delve into on the EP's latter tracks. Unfortunately, what should have been — at most — a 30-second snippet of Mate's presentation instead drags on for two full minutes. That deteriorating momentum isn't helped by the on-the-nose interjections of the Living Society Soul Choir, which insistently urges the listener to "rise up."
From there, Cityreal attempts to evoke the horrors of poverty and substance abuse that Mate outlines in his academic address, rapping: "Sheets over my head, dreams of last night / Chemicals kill the pain of my last life" on the title track. Such lyrics paint a poignant picture, and the Soul Choir's plaintive chanting has a chilling tone, but they're all preaching to a converted congregation on a one-note tune that lacks the kind of nuance or narrative surprises that would hold a listener's attention long enough for the admirable message to truly hit home.
Third track "Around Here," suffers from even greater flaws. The hook is sung by Georgia Murray (of the Victoria electro-pop duo Liinks) in a bland, pitch-corrected, FM-friendly fashion, making her sound like Skylar Grey at best or, at worst, Evanescence. Cityreal spends the track's first half spitting angsty, by-the-numbers lyrics that describe walls that are closing in, his hopes that "hard work" will become "cake," and other lazy clichés. By the second verse, he finally rouses the dozing listener with a few evocative memories about being a delinquent teen bumming joints from his girlfriend's mother. The personal line shows that Cityreal has a wealth of potential to make these songs resonate, and gives the listener hope that he will elevate the rest of the album to that calibre, but alas, Cityreal instead decides to name the next track "Nobody," and spends its duration rhyming about platitudes like — you guessed it — loneliness and how he "feel(s) like (he) got nobody." "Antigraceful," one of the EP's latter tracks, features a guest turn by veteran Vancouver rap crew Swollen Members, who name-checks Arabian Nights, Tarzan and rap mag Mass Appeal in a messy slew of references that, for the most part, lack any degree of coherence.
It's a shame that Cityreal didn't spend more time creating plot twists on Prologue's narrative, which is well meaning, but far too conventional. Here's hoping his upcoming album, Lost in Vancouver, is more imaginative. (Independent)