For Chicago-based emcee Serengeti’s debut on indie label Anticon, he sticks to what he knows best: family and friends. Nearly all of the album’s 11 tracks in some way or another talk about family and/or friends. Serengeti is a very skilled writer, and he can tell very interesting, but abstract stories. But his rapping style and delivery leaves something to be desired. Throughout Family and Friends he uses the same flow and expressionless tone in his voice. Occasionally this adds an element of suspense to a song, like on the opener “Tracks,” but after a few songs it grows old.
The albums strong production is handled by Yoni Wolf (of Why?) and Owen Ashworth (Advanced Base, Casiotone For The Painfully Alone). Their lo-fi, minimalist beats are the perfect complement to Serengeti’s thoughtful rhymes. Tracks like “Flutes” and “A.R.P” are standouts thanks to stellar beats. Tracks like “Goddamnnit” and “The Whip” are stand out cuts thanks to Geti’s weird but effective storytelling ability. On “Goddamnnit” he tells a story about a man living a double life and being married to two women. On “The Whip,” probably the best song on the record, he tells the story of a former UFC fighter trying to get back into fighting.
Family and Friends is not your typical hip hop album, and I think that was what Serengeti was going for. He strays from hip hop clichés and covers unique subject matter on tracks like “Ha-Ha” (where he stalks a woman who works at Lowes and Menards). He does have a few misfires including the title track (which consists of a pretty unlistenable hook) and “California.” The album is very brief, as most songs clock in less than two minutes, but this benefits the record to keep Serengeti’s voice from getting too grating and keeps the production from getting repetitive. Overall this will be a very divisive record for people: fans of non-traditional hip hop and abstract lyricism will love this record, fans of more mainstream sounding hip hop who enjoy flow and deliveries will probably not enjoy it as much.