Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
Columbo Coulda Killed You, a promising upcoming hip hop artist, is preparing to release his new collection, ‘SWiSh.’ The lengthy debut mixtape is set to drop on Feb. 10. Clocking in at nineteen tracks, it’s an enormous effort. Will it be worth spending time with, or will you want to pass on it and trade it out for Kanye’s effort instead? Let’s dig into the mixtape and find that out.
It’s very much worth setting the stage as to where Columbo is coming from on this effort. His sonic palette boasts a very broad spectrum of influence, something that has caused him to be referred to as the ‘Smokey Robinson of underground hip-hop.’ He’s heavily inspired by the 1990s New York hip hop scene, and bits of soul and R&B have found their way into his tunes as well. His vocal styles vary pretty dramatically, and he even delves into some punky territory, a style he attributes to his time in the hardcore music scene in Florida.
Columbo is the first to admit he doesn’t have the best voice. Fortunately, right out of the gate it’s made clear that he does fine job executing his music with what he can do well - hip hop delivery. He’s got a nice flow to his rhymes, something accented nicely by some equally slick production. The opening tune, ‘On The Drink Harder,’ was produced by Stoic Beats. It’s a minimalist soundscape, one that centers Columbo instead of focusing on intense production.
The record is an introspective one for Columbo; as he says, it’s a bit autobiographical. It conceptually delves into his life from his early 20s until now. I like this because it gives his music some depth. Tracks like ‘Peeling Back Nails For The Thrills’ feel superficial on the surface, but they are a bit deeper when you dig into them. That track, for example, explores the idea of artistic independence and remaining unattached to the establishment or detrimentally binding contracts.
Columbo comes from one of those neighborhoods where all people do is party and do drugs. The police come down like dogs on people for obeying the law, and the entire atmosphere is toxic to individuals who want to break out of it. I think this is reflected poignantly in most the tracks. Even RitalinRusso’s feature on the third track explores the defiant individuality established earlier on the album.
Classixs Beats’ production on ‘Not Kidding Around (Take The Drive)’ does leave a lot to be desired. The beats are predictable, a bit boring, and Columbo’s vocal mix is far too harsh. He doesn’t have a lot of bass in his delivery - he’s a fairly high-timbre vocal talent. When mixing that, you have to ensure he still sounds ‘full.’ This is definitely struggled with throughout the record, again exemplified on ‘Cheddy Lordz.’ (Though that track’s production instrumentation is far better. Also, for some reason, the later tracks don’t suffer this vocal dilemma near as much.)
Fast forwarding a bit, because it would be far too lengthy to touch on every single track, let’s instead discuss some highlights and pitfalls as the album progresses further. The production on behalf of Savion X on ‘Dealer Boyfriend’ is incredibly good. The lyricism is excellent as well, marking a mid-album highlight for Columbo. By contrast, I think the subject matter of ‘I Just Drink It Up’ is painfully trope-laden. To be entirely honest, the ‘I’m a badass; here’s my blunt and my drink’ act is old hat, and has been for several years. It’s worth ditching.
I will say that Columbo runs into that issue a number of times on the record, to varying degrees of success or failure. Without overstating the criticism, I will say this: he’s very talented. He doesn’t need to be writing about partying and blunts. He should apply his lyrical ability to more compelling subject matter. He does this, in wonderfully elegant bursts, but not frequently enough. (For example, the exceptional ‘No Kind of Euphoria.’)
Columbo plays with the punky, angsty delivery on tunes like ‘To Die For.’ It works well, and I’d actually argue that track in particular is one of his strongest vocal mixes. He comes through completely clear; so much so that his vocal mix is a surprising revelation here in contrast to the previous songs.
‘Still Ace Face’ is superb; I love the juxediamond production. Seriously, it may be the finest track on the latter half of the album. ‘Party Girl’ is a bit of a joke, quite honestly, but I also can’t tell if it is taking itself serious to begin with. ‘Lines In The Xan’s’ does a nice job articulating an atmospheric landscape. The vocal mix is a bit awry, but it is different. The explosive finale, ‘Unemployed Fucker,’ is excellent, too.
I wholly enjoyed the two and a half hours I spent with this record. I think it could have been fourteen or fifteen tracks - perhaps even nine or ten especially strong ones. There is a trend that mixtapes need to be overly long. That just isn’t the case. I’d argue that Columbo is at his finest when he tackles interesting lyrical content and he’s at his worst when he’s churning out derivative party-induced jams. He should pursue the former heavily; he’s got talent.
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