Kenny Mason Chooses Experimentation over Hit-Chasing on 'Angelic Hoodrat'

BY Josiah NelsonPublished Apr 17, 2020

Although Kenny Mason has been making music for over a decade, his late-2019 single, "Hit," seemed to formally establish him as a name to watch. Mason's crisp voice, equally comfortable rapidly rasping out bars or slowing down to sing in falsetto, paired perfectly with producer Julien Earle's thick, snappy drums and wobbly, windy samples. It was anthemic and large, but also smart and idiosyncratic. Lining up a hit, Mason described having to pick between his survival and his pride. After the first verse, the listener heard a "download complete" sound.

Kenny Mason's debut album, Angelic Hoodrat, is admirable in its total disinterest in chasing the sound and fame of its breakout single. Instead, the album is a testament to experimentation, shifting between a gritty, boom-bap smart southern sound with 808s and cinematic bass, and a grungy, melodic alt-rock sound. Mason's voice, too, morphs and changes, sometimes over the course of a single song, or even a single bar. It's a versatile, comfortable voice, sometimes with a urgent, electrical edge, and sometimes so smooth it's almost deadpan.

When the diverse elements of Mason's sound and structure coalesce, the result is a virtuosic, coherent collage of a song. It's best seen on the thrilling "Angels Calling // My Dad," a subdued track that manages to fit in a ruminative verse on solitude, an affecting phone call from Mason's father, and  a verse about Mason's father that concludes, in pitched vocals, "My dad, my dad, my dad did a whole lot of shit that was bad / just to rent a home to sleep in." Ditto the dreary, creaky piano-driven "Once Again," on which Mason waxes contemplative with a Migos flow about a dead friend.

More often, though, Mason's many elements feel somewhat disparate — too widespread and varied to effectively synthesize. Songs like "Lean" or "Anti-Gravity" borrow heavily from grungy alt-rock, and while Mason's voice makes sense of their thick haze of guitar, they feel lyrically and instrumentally bland. Similarly, "Pretty Thoughts" and "U In A Gang // Exxon" feel more like provisional experiments in rap-rock than inventive, polished songs that contribute to the album's whole.  

Mason's clearly a talented songwriter and producer, with fingerprints on each of Angelic Hoodrat's songs — and he's surrounded himself with talented people, from emerging producers like Julian Cruz to talented director/cinematographer Nasser Boulaich. Mason's ambitious debut certainly reflects this talent, but not consistently. When his diverse sound meshes, it's totally inventive, like he's writing a new language of rap, but when it doesn't, it feels like experimentation for its own sake.

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