Evan Nabavian prefers Ibuprofen to Tylenol.
Starlito is amazing. The perennially overlooked Nashville rapper has songs that make your soul itch, he can melt a Lex Luger beat better than anyone, and he made a mixtape referencing Step Brothers. And in all cases, he’s a virtuoso. Starlito always sounds like he just crawled out of bed nursing a hangover and picked up the microphone out of pure convenience. His latest, Mental WARfare, is a chasm and fatalistic. On the first of many proverb-like interludes, Starlito says, “Holding back tears gives you a headache. So, I’m building my bridge to get over it.”
“Hope for Love” sets the tone; a friend serving 25 years, a cousin with cancer, and a preacher with no answers. Lito plays every card. The world-weariness morphs into a spate of drug binge club rockers and kerosene laced thug rap. Before long, there’s a woozy cut called “L.E.A.N.” produced by DJ Burn One and Cardo. If it sounds like a conventional 2012 rap album, that’s because it is. But Lito packs more honesty than 30 Meek Mills and he has charisma to spare. Across all styles, the appeal is consistent.
Another aphorism: “My judgement is improving and my vision is getting worse, because I don’t see none of you bitch ass niggas.” The album is front-heavy on excitement. “WTF” is an extremely satisfying trap-borne banger produced by Sonny Digital. “The Ville” is the customary advisory on the terrors of Lito’s hometown. In both cases, he’s a cleverer writer than most rappers who chance upon beats sinister as these. His writing is at its best on “Nortriptyline,” where he tells a painfully personal “Black Girl Lost” tale while complaining of a headache.
Mental WARfare ends in the best way possible. On the structureless “Grape Swishers,” Starlito mutters into space over mutually weeded DJ Burn One vapor. Somewhere in the smoke cloud, Lito decides to spit a stray verse that’s as memorable as any of his others and for about five and half minutes, he eludes his headache.