Fat Tony Love Life [EP]

[Same Struggle; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: hip-hop, soul-pop, EDM
Others: its own thing

Look up Houston hip-hop on Wikipedia, and the impression you may get is of someplace between crunk and just dank, full of clubgoers half-crazed on syrup and hard beats. If your hip-hop education has you relying on the geographic schemas many critics use to write lazy opening paragraphs like this one, you might crack Love Life by acclaimed rapper Fat Tony expecting to hear a lot of chopping and screwing.

But Love Life is a different thing, and very much its own thing. True, there are touches here and there that could be called psychedelic -- the murky, synthy outro, for example -- but for the most part, the record seems split between soul-pop and EDM. “Faith” draws the strongest soul comparison with its bouncy, airy beats and wall-of-falsetto vocal production. “Stand High” even goes a bit overboard with chimes and jazzy piano licks. Easy-listening-hop isn’t as gauche an idea as you might think, but whereas MF Doom (for one of many examples) leaves the seams of obvious turntable abuse highly evident in his productions, Fat Tony makes it sound more like a performance by live musicians, and that makes some of the unflattering comparisons less avoidable.

By way of total contrast, “She Glows” and “Much Accomplished” are built around stark electronic loops and sharp, mic-swapping raps. Actually, the style and texture changes so much from the beginning of the record to the middle that one wonders if the decision to finish with the fade-out “Goodbye” is meant to contribute to a sense of cohesion that’s otherwise lacking. Actually, it can be hard imagining the kind of sensibility that would assemble sounds as disparate as the ones on Love Life. Versatility is an almost unqualified virtue in an artist, but in the absence of formats set by the limitations of physical media, channeling versatility into wholes is the chief reason to put out records instead of just songs.

That said, Love Life is a good handful of songs. “Faith” and “Love Life” are excellent, addicting productions; the latter, in particular, makes brilliant use of insistent, repetitive samples that build up to a head-rush and a very catchy chorus. If he can translate the versatility of this EP to a longer player with a brighter through-line, someone will have to update the Wiki for lazy critics like myself.

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