Craig Smith, the Madison-based MC known as Sincere Life, calls his new Write of Passage an EP, but it delivers much more than a brief introduction to his music. Despite the trouble local hip-hop artists have had getting into clubs lately, he'll celebrate the recording's release this Saturday at 2 p.m. at B-Side Records on State Street.
Write's 11 tracks form an album-length arc, demonstrating that the Chicago-raised artist is more than the plaintive rhyme-scribbler he presented on 2011's Dreams in My Notebook. On Write's first few tracks, Smith's flow is hoarse and boastful. Later on, he oozes a more mellow brand of confidence on steadily undulating jams about weed ("White Grape White Owls") and sexual obsession ("Favorite"). Still, he's at his best as an MC in the EP's middle stretch, which contains some more reflective tracks like "Three Kings."
The song's extended metaphor centers on money, power and respect: three forces that, according to Smith, rule the world. He succeeds in turning each "king" into a slightly mysterious character, adding heft to his verses with double-tracking rather than getting too heavy-handed with the rhetoric or delivery.
"You say you do it for the love, but that's to his amusement/He stay included, that's the type of iron fist he rule with," Smith says of the first king. The next one "always seemed to be right behind the first, like jet streams," he says in a clever transition to the second verse. The third, "even though he had less appeal, he knows most." It's not a difficult metaphor to figure out, but Smith's well-built verses offer a nuanced exploration of the values people live by.
As the song winds down, he notes how some people aren't even be aware of what rules them.
The beat, by Madison's DLO, isn't heavy-handed either. Conversational keyboard phrases and streaks of guitar signal a moody track but leave enough open space for Smith's words to really set the tone.
DLO's not the only producer with finesse on this album. From the ominous synth chords on "Freewrite II (Hunger)" to the slick vocal hooks on "Too Much," just about all of the tracks bring new discoveries with repeated listens. They also let Smith prove that his writing and rapping have evolved admirably in many directions.
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