WiccaPhase’s new EP is insightful and unexpected

When a joke becomes serious


Album: Shut My Eyes EP

Release date: April 10

Label: Thraxxhouse

Grade: B+

Two years ago, a Swedish rapper by the name of Yung Lean released a single, “Ginseng Strip 2002.” Then the 18-year-old Emcee continued to confuse his audience by labeling his music as “sad” or “emotional.” The instruments that accompany his music provide the atmosphere of “sadness,” but Yung Lean’s lyrics and delivery don’t provide much emotion at all.

In fact, his lyrics sound like a series of inside jokes about Arizona Ice Tea and Nintendo 64.

The question of whether “sad rap” can be a new sub-genre of hip-hop was further explored by up-and-coming rappers who began adopting the themes and cadences of Yung Lean, while simultaneously putting their own spin on what “sad rap” is.

Thraxxhouse is a collective of hip-hop artists from Seattle who have also ventured into the sounds of “sad rap.” Key Nyata, who used to be affiliated with Miami rapper, created the collective SpaceGhostPurrp. Together, the two rappers helped create a resurgence of southern-underground hip-hop that was based less on regional position and more on preference of sound.

After severing ties with SpaceGhostPurrp, Key Nyata spent time gathering various artist around the country to be under his Thraxxhouse imprint. Among some of these musicians was Adam McIlwee from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who received minor notoriety for his work with the indie-rock and emo band, Tigers Jaw.

Mcllwee decided to leave the group to pursue experimental hip-hop and alternative rock under the name, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal.

Wicca Phase takes Yung Lean’s sad awkwardness and adds his own emo experiences to “sad rap,” reworking the possible sub-genre with influences that take hip-hop to new places. Wicca Phase recently released his 10th studio album since 2012, which is when he first started the side project.

Shut My Eyes is a three-song album, entirely produced by Jayyeah, who is known for working with rappers like Lil B and Key Nyata.

The experimental quality of Wicca’s comes from his vocals, which switch between low monotone rapping, singing and wailing, which recall the days of when he was with Tigers Jaw. In fact, it could be argued that Wicca doesn’t rap at all, but Mcllwee has been quoted in interviews stating that Wicca Phase Springs Eternal is a hip-hop project.

A big difference between Wicca Phase and Tigers Jaw is the instrumentation. Mcllwee chooses to rap over sparse, bass heavy beats that overpower his voice whereas with Tigers Jaw, Mcllwee’s voice was at the center of every song with the intention of being heard. The intentional move for Mcllwee to have his vocals blend in with the beat, rather than be on top of the beat, creates an atmosphere of “sadness” that’s similar to the instrumentation of Yung Lean and his team of producers.

The first track from Shut My Eyes features acoustic guitar, trap drum patterns, with Wicca singing lyrics like “in dreaming through past lives / you were acting for me in the club lights.”

The song is about Wicca being in a club while he’s by himself, reminiscing on ex-girlfriends, old friends and even alluding to his experience when he was with the band, Tigers Jaw.

“In 2011 man / I shut my eyes like I was blacked out for all of it / remember nights when I was blacked out on every song,” Wicca wails on the first track, which shares the same title as his new album.

Shut My Eyes shows a progression within Wicca’s style with more live instrumentation and experimentation with a sound that’s too hip-hop to be rock and too rock to be hip-hop. The last song of the album (“Highway in The Night”) has Wicca singing very emotively as a sparse beat slowly builds up behind him.

The song lays down the statement that sad rap may not be a joke at all, but instead hip-hop’s version of emo culture.

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