Album Review: MellowHigh – MellowHigh

Mellowhigh Hodgy Beats Domo Genesis Left Brain Odd FutureThough “MellowHigh” sounds so homophonically similar to “MellowHype” that it might seem reasonable to expect MellowHigh to simply be MellowHype plus weed (Domo), that expectation is unwarranted. First, there’s no telling how much uncredited weed lurks in the liner notes of MellowHype‘s extensive catalog, so weed was always a factor. Second, as first indicated by last year’s excellent No Idols and consistently corroborated by his appearances on Wolf, Doris and The Jellyfish Mentality, Domo himself isn’t really a stoner rapper anymore. Third, of course, is MellowHigh itself, a frenetic foray through a world of blunts, blunts and love for good, focused rap.

On the album opener, “Goon’N,” between the opening and closing verses, Domo confesses, “Hell yeah, nigga. This shit amazing, I can’t believe it. It’s like unbelievably amazing.” He eventually begins bragging (of course), but his surprised response to his own music has an important implication, one that’s sublimated throughout the album: they recorded MellowHigh with nearly no expectations. The fact that the result of their no-stakes effort is actually good marks an interesting shift in Odd Future’s collective development. They’ve always made music organically, without any set expectations, but the polish of MellowHigh couldn’t have happened back in 2011. Somehow that lack of expectations would have manifested in a throwaway line or two, or a lame gag. Here in 2013, they’ve grown so much that they can utilize their spontaneity without becoming victims of it or having to “summon it” through force. Otherwise put, they can stage dive without risking injury or doing it out of “obligation.” They’ve reached a state of pure confidence, one that’s so subconscious Domo is surprised at how good they are, as if he’s forgotten.

Beyond Domo‘s surprise, this confidence is most apparent in Left Brain‘s choice of beats. He’s always pushed the limits of anyone rapping over his instrumentals, but here he ups the ante. Songs like “Nobody” and the aptly named album apex “High Life” are characterized by truly sinister synths. On the former, Left Brain makes the synths wail like agitated birds, smothering them with boulder-sized heapings of snares and bass as he subtly pitches them up and down and back again. The effect is tortuous, but in the best way imaginable. “High Life” is even more riveting, featuring subdued synths that flutter alongside frenetic drums, concentrated bass and repeated boasts from Domo and Smoke DZA. Left Brain even manages to incorporate Curren$y‘s unintelligible mutterings into the instrumental.

Even with all these manifestations of confidence, confidence alone is never enough. Bolstering Left Brain’s confidence to push against the grain is skill. On MellowHigh Hodgy and Domo are particularly focused, especially for an Odd Future project. Of the myriad laughs and jokes that likely occurred during the recording process, only a few made it to the album, mostly concentrated on the album closer “Cigarillo.” To clarify, this focus isn’t humorlessness. Hodgy is as crafty as ever: “Fuck a pig, bitch! Word to my Muslim pops.” And Domo shouts out Chief Keef at the end of his verse on “Self Titled.” Resident clown Jasper even makes a brief cameo on “Goon’N.” In other words, rather than something that they actively avoided, humor is simply something that they largely just weren’t going for, so they stuck to keeping it at arm’s length.

In the end, what MellowHigh was going for – a solid demonstration of their ability to make interesting music – was definitely accomplished. One of the dangers of constantly producing music with the same people is staleness. After 4 years of frequent in-house collaborations, one would expect Odd Future to have collectively either plateaued at best or decomposed in a blaze of incestuous banality at worst, but they continue to crank out solid projects. Following Wolf, Doris and Feel Good, MellowHigh is further proof that Odd Future’s family-first approach is facilitating, not inhibiting. Skill certainly plays a decisive role in MellowHigh‘s success – after all, there are plenty of music crews that only work with each other and still produce duds because they lack the talent- but the confidence to push each other, to not take that skill for granted, is something that is unique to Odd Future. Hopefully things will remain that way for years to come.