Things seem to be going pretty well for Has-Lo. The Philly based producer/MC has a contract with burgeoning underground powerhouse MelloMusic Group, a blogosphere buzz and a stellar debut album about to drop. And, he is not happy about it, at all. In Case I Don’t Make It comes from a dark place and is best absorbed in a dark room, on dark headphones (no white earbuds for this bad boy).
Listeners wanting a dark twisted fantasy should be advised to drop Mr. West back into the changer. Has-Lo eschews melodramatic self- indulgence in favor of an understatedly soulful meditation on his personal demons and those of the world against which they battle. Sonically, Has-Lo works off of a minimalist template of dusty mid-tempo drums topped off with slightly off-kilter keys and subtly filtered samples. His lyrics tend to begin with the personal, and work their way out to more universal themes. The formula works to chilling perfection on the haunting “Building Jewelz,” and is effectively inverted on “Untitled #1 (Hold On),” in which a stream of consciousness musing on struggle evolves into a touching examination of his relationship with an ailing grandmother.
The marriage of thoughtful lyrics and deceptively nuanced production take “Storm Clouds” and “Subliminal Oppression” from slow burners to standouts. But, on the less developed tracks like “Forgotten Styles” and “Sub-Ether,” Has-Lo’s laconic monotone quickly becomes, well, monotonous, allowing some lyrical diamonds to get lost in the rough. At such moments, it is hard not to wonder how potent Has-Lo would be if his delivery were a bit more varied and colorful. But, ultimately, In Case I Don’t Make It is music for a very specific mood and place; a vessel for the darkest of thoughts to maneuver through the darkest of nights, and to that end, the tone is just right. Too much style would undermine the journey, though it might bring a few more travelers on board.