Quinton Barnes Careens Between Sounds and Feelings on 'For the Love of Drugs'

BY Leslie Ken ChuPublished Oct 17, 2022

Quinton Barnes' self-produced third album, For the Love of Drugs, is a gauntlet of tormented internal monologues. Drawing inspiration from surrealist auteurs like David Lynch and Darren Aronofsky, the visceral album finds the Kitchener-born Toronto artist's psychological anguish mounting until he kicks and screams like some body-bursting Cronenbergian horror.

One of the most impressive aspects of Barnes' past works — his 2020 debut AARUPA and especially last year's breakthrough, As a Motherfucker — is the jarring way they careen from one musical style to another. On Drugs, he leans even harder as he swerves from braggadocious hip-hop to soulful R&B to industrial electronic, resulting in a genre pileup resembling glitched out experimenters like Autechre, Aphex Twin, Arca, and SOPHIE.

Drugs swells with boastful declarations. Amidst neon rays of synth that pierce through low rumbling bass and pulverizing mechanical grinding on "Dead," Barnes awards himself five stars for his flows and claims other rappers will never be on his level. He brags about his sex drive on "Wild Man": "You got a big dick? / Learn how to use it / You got a small dick? / I'll take that too, shit," he raps over drumline percussion that betrays the song's title and makes it the album's most regimented song. "Fuck Alive" is another unquenchably thirsty standout, with Barnes delivering spitfire rhymes that keep pace with a rapid footwork beat until he downshifts to melodic vocals halfway through.

In reality though, Barnes is plagued with insecurity. He spirals alongside a free-falling beat on "To Freedom." As he plummets, he hurls accusations of schadenfreude at his detractors, yet he grinds for their attention in the same breath: "I hate y'all / I need to be admired." He calls freedom "the only thing I've ever needed," but he's imprisoned by his obsession over winning external validation. Even when he derides other rappers on "Dead," he sees himself as the underdog punching up: "Got a feeling I deserve something more / 'Cause ain't nothing working here at all," he raps with frustration.

The voices in Barnes' head insult him and go so far as to tell him he's better off dead. In his most vulnerable moments, he succumbs to their antagonism: "I'm the devil you want me to be /... / I'm the evil you want me to be," he concedes on "To Freedom." Over scratchy noise that whips and sputters like helicopter blades on "Tunnelvision," he warns he'll knife someone when their guard is down. But his insecurity makes him paranoid, so his threat come off like defensive posturing — it's as if he's trying to convince himself he'll be the one with a knife in his back if he drops his vigilance.

Barnes' inner demons also pressure him to abuse substances (namely weed) on the melodic and relatively calm "Stunner." But he's of clear enough mind to acknowledge that his vices, as well as his artistic ambitions, are driving him down an unhealthy path. Encouragingly, "Stunner" is just one example that proves he's not alone in his struggle: guest vocalists Ty Sorrell (who co-wrote the song) and a returning Christina Jewell, who's appeared on every Barnes album, offer respite from the toxic voices in his head. Jewell also shows up again for Barnes on "Dead" and the densely layered, crackling slow jam "Vaeprism."

Ultimately, given Barnes' insecurity, his negative thoughts seem more like cries for help than serious harmful intentions for himself or others. His peacocking is largely a façade; he's lashing out to overcompensate for his perceived shortcomings. Hopefully, by confronting his biggest doubter — himself — he's able to exorcise his demons and quell any lingering self-doubt. In any case, For the Love of Drugs is a compelling triumph of artistic growth. Just imagine what the young artist, still only in his mid-20s, can accomplish if he fires at full confidence.

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