Max Bell something something
INT. APARTMENT BUILDING – EARLY MORNING
WARA FROM THE NBHD enters his apartment, exhausted from a long day and night spent hustling.
Immediately, his girlfriend begins to argue with him. The baby wakes and begins to cry.
Voices fade. Guitars cry.
ROLL TITLE CARD – THE ILL STREET BLUES
Apart from my infinite supply of ideas for game-changing, million dollar Hollywood scripts, it seemed fitting to open this way because Wara From the NBHD’s The Ill Street Blues plays so cinematically, just as carefully crafted first rap albums should. It’s the spilling of all the blood bubbling during the years spent struggling. It encapsulates a state of mind, as well as an emotional and physical space. The moment the proverbial needle hits wax (or you hit play on your Ipod), it’s clear that Wara, the 23-year old BK bred rapper/producer who now resides on the east side Atlanta, has nearly bled mind, body, and emotions dry in writing and scoring his audible biopic.
Like many American auteurs—Woody, Spike, Tarantino, Scorsese—NBHD isn’t shy about revealing his influences. Both thematically and sonically, the album takes direct inspiration from its namesake, Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s “Ill Street Blues.” While the suites aren’t nearly as upbeat as the Trackmaster original—Wara’s backdrops are much darker, grimmer organic affairs—the lyrical content is much of the same. With updated references, the intent is still to sell, survive, and get rich without dying. Sonically, it’s really a softer, more emotive take on Wayne’s Tha Carter II (his best and last great effort) combined with much of UGK’s Ridin’ Dirty.
But while Wara pays homage to Nas (“Thieves Theme” and “Cee-lo Champs”), the Clipse (“Lord Willin”), Outkast (“Fish Grease”), Cube (half of “Coma” is Cube’s “Really Doe”), Dre (“Let Me Ride Pt. 2”) and Pac (“Belly”), if only in title, he’s not leaning on his idols in his attempt to stand among them. For the most part, Wara rejects the paint by numbers approach that so many of today’s still-developing young guard have adopted. In other words, he hasn’t used his influences as a template, but more of a jumping off point; which should be the goal of every rapper in the game—to put the listener in their cement shoes as they walk with heavy steps from the bottom to the top of the throne. I don’t want to hear Jay-Z rap about whatever he raps about now.
The artwork, which essentially serves as both biography and a statement of intent, is a blend of Biggie’s first cover and Kendrick’s latest. And while Wara’s music not yet at that level of either, it’s extremely promising in its desire to get there. “The Ill Street Blues” is one of the best title tracks I’ve heard in recent memory, thumping along like the most rocking of blues jams, made for stomping and head nodding. The guitar (played by Rick Fontaine) complements Wara’s bars without overshadowing them, and the vocals from Ceej on the pithy and solid hook, while not remarkable, are as blue as need be.
“Cee-lo Champs” is a laid back affair about the pitfalls of playing craps “for EBTs,” with a beat reminiscent of UGK’s “One Day.” The saxophone that appears throughout the album, courtesy of Carlos Hughes, is best on display on “Fish Grease,” which is the necessary pimp portion of fabric in the thug tapestry. “Genuine Leather” has the meanest loop of the entire record, and “The Ill Remains” is a great closing statement, with flutes floating in the backdrop, slightly reminiscent of Dre’s “Lil’ Ghetto Boy.”
“Make Em Relate” is perhaps Wara’s most cohesive track, the beat, lyrics, and hook all aiming for the gut and hitting it hard. It is the anthem for aspiring thugs turned rappers, the guitars screaming, the drums pounding, and the piano creeping like the car rounding the corner. In terms of delivery, it’s Wara at his finest, his most confident, his most raw.
Granted, while many of the tracks hit the mark, there are those that fall flat. The production on “Belly” feels a bit generic for how fresh out of the box-frame Cadillac the rest of the tape sounds. There’s also “Top of the World,” which is definitely Wara’s attempt at a pop record. It ends up feeling less like him and more like a J. Cole record. It’s really not Wara’s forte, and he’s better off just doing him.
But the production is almost always on point, and while Wara still doesn’t always possess the confidence and deft delivery necessary to pull off every line, his earnestness and clear dedication to craft carry him throughout. If this record is any indication, his future looks Ill.