Thomas Johnson is fully woke twice removed off the fake deep end
Last year, Raury stalked into the public eye with “Cigarette Song” and “God’s Whisper,” two marginally catchy singles with suspiciously large video budgets. He followed it up with Indigo Child, an album that staked itself on the intersection of folk-rock acoustics and hip-hop drums. The Georgia Peach Tree was pitched as More Than a Rapper, the high school music program’s star who could be the antithesis to 808s and rolling hi-hats. The best part of Indigo Child was the flash game you had to play to access the download link.
His new album All We Need opens: “Don’t hate, my brother, God is our friend / I’ve walked for miles and I see no end / To the hate.” That sounds about right. “Friends,” a single that preceded the album, is an ode to hitchhiking that never strays beyond the aphoristic. Let’s get the Andre 3000 comparisons out of the way: Raury isn’t ATLiens, he’s The Love Below if ‘Dre were ripping Ben Harper instead of Prince.
That’s more or less emblematic of All We Need as a whole—it’s about positive high school pep rally messages, without really being asked to come up with new ideas, sounds, or even a turn of phrase. The slogans of this generation are suspiciously the same as the old. This is Arrested Development part 2.0, without anything remotely as funky or affecting as “People Everyday” or “Mr. Wendel.”
“CPU,” one of the album’s my-first-ballads, is the best example of where All We Need loses itself. The beat, a derivative but passable 808’s and Heartbreak rip, feels like a cross between “Street Lights” and Mac Miller’s “Youforia.” It works well enough, if only as a respite from Raury’s touch-my-heart-with-your-foot guitar plucks and falsetto.
But there’s no break from his songwriting. “Talking on the phone after midnight,” “not wanting to walk alone,” “flames.” These are a quick sample of the collegiate handbook of cliches—in just the first verse. The second and third stumble along as his undeterred confidence shines in spite of some unnamed misdeed. He mentions “computerized love” which, contrived as it may be, makes for a natural transition into RZA’s verse. Bobby Digital’s distinctive, haphazard flow highlights just how clumsy the album’s themes can be: “can’t be through, it’s like a feet need a shoe/The sky needs the blue, I need you.” Bong Bong Bong?
Out of the three love songs, “CPU” actually manages to be the most competent. “Love Is Not A Four Letter Word” is the worst. A single drawn out verse over a southern whistle and Raury’s repetitive strumming, it’s impossible to tell if it’s in favor of or against the emotion. There are no concrete details, so you never find out why The Indigo Child is so bitter about this relationship he can’t get over. It sounds like a Boyz II Men song sanitized and re-written for a Pentecostal youth group.
In place, there are insights so mind bogglingly banal as to be impressive. They reach their peak with: “You ain’t ever seen a gutter before/Well, look no further/Here’s one, between my udders/I’ll show you the gutter, the toilet, the flusher/And the usher to take you out of my sight/After all this shit is over.” That is an actual fucking lyric that was written in a song on an album that people actually took seriously. From there, it winds down to what I assume is a reference to KISS and an oversimplified anecdote on the timelessness of love. If you ever wondered why there aren’t more didgeridoos in rap, here’s your answer.
If you want to hear rap with a folk influence, try milo’s Things That Happen At Day, or Serengeti’s collaborations with Sufjan, or the guy busking with a banjo at the open mic night in Boulder. If you want to listen to someone like André 3000, there is no one like Andre 3000. So listen to more André 3000. If you want something more politically charged, listen to anything that Killer Mike has done in the last 20 years. Fuck, you’re better off listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. At least they used to sound like they did drugs to mask their actual pain.
It’s understandable why people want to get behind Raury. He’s a talented young musician who accurately mimics his influences without being asked to go beyond them — from his hats to his revolutionary slogans that sound jacked from a Gillette commercial. He’s a perfect product for his time: well-packaged and sincere with just enough irony to let you know that he’s in on the joke. But he fills a market need not an emotional one. Maybe he’ll get there one day, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that he’s remotely on par with what came before him. If this is all we need, we need to do much better.