Chaz French – Happy Belated
Chaz French is a blue-chip rap prospect from the Washington, D.C. area whose debut album, Happy Belated, has been making the requisite blog rounds for the last couple of weeks. And, while it’s mostly enjoyable hearing Chaz slam home vocal alley-oops over the production work of fellow upstarts — names like Kris Minor and Super Miles — Happy Belated ends up feeling more like 28 points scored on 10-for-thirty shooting, rather than an efficient use of the rapper’s obvious natural talent.
The 23 year-old French has an above-average handle on the mic and a commanding voice that slips easily from a cutting nasal rasp to a pitched snarl. (He also frequently employs a melodic, sing-song flow, but more on that in a minute.) Chaz has the ability to convey a range of emotions using these shifts in delivery, and on “Intro,” the standout first track, he establishes a poignant set of narrative talking-points: an absent father; choosing to leave his mother’s house at an early age; a period of homelessness; alcohol addiction; and the love of his daughter, Akai, who he’s pictured holding in his arms on the album cover.
It’s pretty standard “struggle rap,” an ethos that French claims explicitly on wax and wears as a badge of honor in Happy Belated’s best moments like the confessional “LMGLML” (“Let Me Go Or Let Me Live”) and flamenco-tinged “Primavera,” which he dedicates to his daughter. There are some impressive moments here that parallel the works of the best young MCs working today, and the dynamism of hearing heartfelt introspection (“Before I Die”) backed against profane swagger (“The Shit,” “Erryday Stuntin’”) is necessary to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, though, Chaz’s impassioned bars alone can’t prop up his writing which is often color-by-numbers in either scenario. Sometimes he raps himself in circles only to find there’s nowhere interesting to go; call it J. Cole Syndrome, I guess.
French, for better or worse, is also strongly informed by his famous peers who have already paved the lanes that Happy Belated works in. He might owe Drake some royalties for “Do Better,” a virtual beat-jack of Graham’s “Over My Dead Body” right down to the muted drums, warbled female vocals and self-loathing. It’s true Chaz openly admits a similarity with the OVO head — who himself spent a year parroting Big Sean before graduating from copier to most-copied, it should be noted — but an alternate take on that kind of emotional disclosure isn’t as interesting unless you also practice Drake’s shameless absurdism. (And Chaz doesn’t strike me as the type of dude who’s willing to bring a puppy into the strip club.)
Stylistically, French raps in a sing-song flow in a number of spots on Happy Belated, and the ominously nocturnal bangers and emo, headphone trap pieces standard to OVO releases are employed here as well. I also caught whiffs of Chance the Rapper (“Intro”) and (I’ll probably regret saying this, but…) Kendrick Lamar on “The Vent,” where French substitutes the Eiffel Tower with a jumbotron screen as his dick-measuring-device of choice. Curiously, “The Vent” also features a primal Yeezus-like scream and shouts of “Basquiat!” in the chorus. Eventually, the accumulation of these nods to the current gods of the moment scans more as pilfering than honorary, which is not the side a virtually unknown rapper like French wants to fall on.
To be fair, Happy Belated was likely meant as a showcase for Chaz French’s abilities, which are myriad. At its best the album introduces a talented young rapper in search of his true voice; at this point he’s hanging pictures on his wall. If he can stay away from the turnt anthem pratfalls that trip up this record, and turn his street repentant struggle bars into something that sounds fresh, Chaz French indeed has the ability to take a step toward becoming who he thinks he is.
3 out of 5
You can download Happy Belated here.