These days, the holy trinity of regional rap is Memphis, Houston, and the Bay Area. It’s dangerous to generalize about the music from these three regions, not only because of its diversity, but because it already tends to be marginalized in lieu of mainstream mainstays. As listeners, however, the most recent generation of young rappers seem to have drawn a similar element from all three that distinguishes these scenes musically from more well represented areas like New York, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Its an ear for haze: thick, saturated sounds that can manifest themselves in fat synths or slow motion funk. Its a sound that anyone from Lil B, to A$AP Rocky, to Drake will know something about.
Cities Aviv’s first album involved a small amount of this, but a lot of other things as well, from New York party tracks to seemingly Prince-inspired industrial muzik. The mostly self-produced Black Pleasure shows a clearer vision and more focused creativity. At first, this can seem like a little bit of a disappointment: a lot of the fun of Digital Lovvs is its refreshing variety, the simple fact that it doesn’t necessarily sound like something you’ve heard earlier that same day.
Black Pleasure, however, exhibits a much more logical sound than its predecessor and its newfound structure is an interesting one. Much of Cities’ music runs the risk of falling into pre-Bossilinis and Fooliyones Main Attrakionz territory: vaguely interesting, blissed out ambience with little else. Unlike Squadda B and company, however, Cities Aviv has found his way to steer the haze as a independent force of its own, rather than just as background noise. Like the Clams Casino beats of Lil B’s fabulous 2010 run, such as “I’m God” or “What You Doin”, where the thick clouds of sound can become melody lines of their own, the album can frequently contain a powerful second voice. Black Pleasure takes it a step further, often turning the tracks into Donuts-style sample presentations, with his own voice relegated to background echo.
Cities Aviv as a vocalist, then, has actually taken a slight step back. An outspoken fan of late-seventies Post-Punk and New Wave legends Joy Division, he reaches to embody some of lead-singer Ian Curtis’s monotone in his own rapping. The line between New Wave and cloud rap is not actually that wide stylistically, even if the two traditions rarely meet each other culturally. Aviv takes a Death-Grips-style drone delivery, slows it down and turns it from a screaming match into a thoughtful but passionate speech. In the end, he presents a vocal modesty that has no trouble getting your attention when it is deserved. It is this attitude that pervades Black Pleasure most completely: the rapper presents a cool confidence in himself that allows him to explore his own sounds much more thoroughly than before.