The aforementioned phrase doesn’t elicit the same gas-faced reactions that “athletes rapping” or “The Situation rapping” do, but there’s always a degree of skepticism when it comes to producers moving to the other side of the glass (thanks for nothing, Swizz Beatz!). Exile, like many producers (and athletes, actors, grandmothers, etc.) before him, has caught the rapping influenza. And as a producer, he just happened to have a bunch of beats lying around, a coincidence that led to his solo rap debut 4TRK MIND.
Exile unabashedly flaunts his Madlib influence, as the album ‘s soul and dialogue samples drive the production. His reunion with Blu on “When Nothing’s Left” includes everyone’s favorite sample right now, Mr. Otis Redding, and a Southern revival hook
made for Otis’ church choir background. Exile also falls into one of Madlib’s darker habits: the long stretches of dialogue. The difference is that Madlib’s samples still seem to move the album along, whereas Exile doesn’t seem to know when to cut the dialogue, seemingly content to let it run too long like a Family Guy joke.
Exile is an able storyteller on the bluesy “Younger Days”, where he recounts his turbulent relationship with and the premature death of his father. Another story is his losing out on a junior high crush once it became known his family was on welfare. He’s engaging on “Younger Days” because of the Atmosphere appeal, the identification with the self-deprecating and flawed.
But if he’s not telling stories, Exile struggles. As if the awkward, stumbling verses on “Klepto” weren’t enough, he sings the hook, and it’s almost Lil B’s “All My Life”- bad. He redeems himself on “Love, Luv, Love”, but the bright spots are sporadic.
Exile doesn’t do many favors for the reputation of rapping producers. While it’s not destined to be the butt of “producers who went into rapping” references, not much from the album begs to be put on a playlist. The beats are unremarkable (you’d think he’d save the good beats for his own album, but they all seem to be throwaways) and the rhymes need a lot more polish. Exile would have benefited from a few warm-up mixtapes before asking people to fork over money to hear him rap. If he hadn’t made his name as a producer first, this album’s release date would languish in “TBD” purgatory for a while.
2 out of 5
Stream “When Nothing’s Left” below.