Richard Wright

SoCal rookie MC Richard Wright titles his debut Open Minded, even though he opens the album with a man stating, “Open-minded people are people who agree with me and closed-minded people are people who don’t agree with me.” Moreover, in spite of the title’s alt-rap implications, he’s frequently preoccupied with the cliché-rap trinity of money (“Duck Tales$$$”), sex (“Kick It”), and drugs (“Greenery”). Well, Wright’s approach to his songs is hardly typical, because underneath the clichés are layers of thoughtfulness. He starts upfront with unrelenting obstinacy, but then he deliberately lets off the braggadocio, peeling back those layers as the album progresses. Wright reveals his own personal philosophies and his observations of how the mind works, and yet he still sounds like a contemporary hip-hop artist. Open Minded makes the trite and abstract sound interesting and real.

Wright’s lyrical technique isn’t all that inspiring, but sometimes it’s just good to hear a rapper actually sound like a rapper—in this case a West Coast one. His flow is often immaculate. The syllables move so naturally with the beat that he’s just as convincing when he spits nonsense (“Rappers say they sick, but I’m really out here rapping with a cold, like I’m really sick, nigga”) or sober contemplation (“No one would see oppression, and no one would know recession/Everyone sees the sun, but then no one would see it setting”).

Add that to the solid to stellar beats by J. Bizz, Wright’s label head and sole producer, and Open Minded is worthy of being considered as one of the top hip-hop debuts for 2012. Their chemistry is stellar mainly when Bizz laces Wright with soul-hop backdrops like “Get Away,” “Dreams Pt. 1,” and the Phonte-assisted “Heart.” Dated productions, like the late-‘90s era, Swizz Beatz-jacking “Greenery,” are few and far in between, but are responsible for the album’s most skip-worthy moments.

It's Wright’s thought-provoking lyrics that allow him to burrow into the listener’s mind, however. The mix of traditional rap banter with the semi-philosophical is refreshing. Hardly ever abstract, he prefers clarity over bombast. On the song “Fuck It,” where the hook goes “Hey, this song’s called ‘Fuck It’!,” he rhymes, “When haters can’t see you, haters hate on your vision/So when I'm saying something new, haters hate when you listen.”

When Wright unfolds that last layer on the outro, he uses a sample of someone quoting British biographer Evelyn Hall who summed up the philosophy of the 18th-century French intellectual Voltaire: “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend ‘til the death your right to say it. That is open-minded.” Frankly, Open Minded is just very well-conceived from beginning to end. Wright’s skill set is limited and doesn’t consistently come through on every song, but the talent he does harness—his ability to organize Open Minded—borders on brilliance. He’s a rookie definitely worth watching.

- Cyril Cordor