The intro to Pell’s debut album Floating While Dreaming acts as a manifesto that perfectly summarizes the twelve tracks to come in a succinct half-minute. The Mississippi rapper’s answering machine receives a message from a concerned boss, unsure of where his employee has disappeared to. The questionably-voice-acted vignette plays out over a pensive soundscape before erupting into a fantastic instrumental featuring an excited emcee introducing himself with the kind of energy an opening track deserves. Pell is an introspective individual with a story to tell and a platform of great beats to tell it over.
“Dreamy” is the best word to describe the ambient-esque instrumentals floating beneath Pell’s bars. The sounds here are ethereal enough that they would fit snugly into a cloud rap record, but grounding elements like persistent percussion and grooving bass lines keep them down to Earth. Small winks to chiptune and huge nods to trip-hop lend the beats an aura that is both experimental and familiar. When the cascading voices of “Dollar Store” or disembodied strings of “Fresh Produce” kick into action it feels as if a musical adventure is beginning, but hearing the quaint sounds of “Eleven:11” or “Morning Light” feels like returning to a warm home after a long journey. A minor lack of variety in pace or tone can leave a few instrumentals too similar to one another, but the vibrant colors of the record never fade for too long.
As the aforementioned intro made apparent, Pell delivers his rhymes in a first-person, stream-of-consciousness style. Over the course of the album he shares his thoughts on a variety of topics including lost loves, meaningful friendships, shaky religions and struggles with work. There’s no particular focus that dominates the lyrics, which seems like a missed opportunity given how the instrumental consistency hints at a greater concept. Pell is a solid storyteller, but in placing his iron sights on too many targets he runs the risk of stretching his lyricism thin. A few unsightly lines also rear their ugly heads: wordplay like “Sucker for my face, you’ve been sucking it for days” well, sucks.
It’s fortunate, then, that Pell’s flows are phenomenal. He has the kind of versatility that can burst out of the gate swinging on “Dollar Store” or hang back for an emotional moment on “Runaway” with the same level of believability. He consistently impresses, running laps around the sleepy beats with the energy of a caffeine-crazed young adult at three in the morning.
Pell also tries his hand at singing with mixed results. His voice is smooth enough to deliver an R&B-inspired hook, but lacks the range to carry an entire verse unassisted – a casualty caused by ambition; Lengthy ballads on songs like “Now You Know” reveal cracks in the vocalist’s armor. He’s certainly capable of keeping a tune, but he’s consistently outshined by guest collaborators and his own rapping. The stellar “Wait On Me” should provide a template for future tracks: save the singing for the chorus, devote the verses to excellent rapping.
Pell’s grand stardom might still be a dream, but the skill on display here tells of a morning that is fast approaching. With a solid foundation and unique sound already in place, he now needs to focus on tightening his skills. Pell has potential, and if he narrows his lyrical topics to a firm concept and places emphasis on spitting over singing, there’s no doubt that people will stop sleeping on his dream.