A few years ago, Danny Brown was talking about “lo-fi indie cloud raps” as a genre of hip hop, something for which to aspire. This was around the time that Clams Casino had started to hit a larger popular consciousness after the release of his first collection of instrumentals exposing his beats to a wider audience. While a lot of music was discussed, not much of it ever really felt “lo-fi” in the same sense as indie music. It was far too clean, the grit carefully lifted each audio-engineered track.
Rast RFC, however, has taken the concept of “lo-fi indie cloud raps” and married it with an intense personal history to produce his first mixtape, Across West 3rd Street. Sonically, the project is very much a demo and it sounds like it was recorded directly into a laptop’s onboard microphone. The beats don’t knock where you’d expect them to, sounding more like you’re hearing them blast out of someone else’s headphones. This is shot through with a production that starts and stops at a whim, loops that don’t fully sync and a tinniness that gives everything a lighter feel.
Not that any of this matters, really. Hip Hop’s sonics are now merely a delivery vehicle to get concepts and lyrics to you and that’s where Rast shines. Across West 3rd Street is a cleaned-up collection of tracks that were previously found on other platforms like Youtube and Soundcloud. Here the tracks still aren’t “professional quality” with the lower-end nearly absent except in the punched in gun shot sound effects.
Opening with a two-minute spoken-word intro, Rast lays out a bit of what he wants to do with this project, providing an statement of intent. This is very important to the tape because if you take the songs piecemeal, the the overall message tends to get lost in the shuffle. Where Rast warns kids against streetlife in “The Gun Don’t Make The Man”, the latter half of the tape bumps up against tracks like “Back In the Daze”, where the nostalgia for a forgotten life will overwhelm the “don’t do what I did” message.
The tape is dark and violent and it strips the fun from the thug lifestyle. Even the fancy clothes, the street fame, and the wild antics weren’t enough to keep Rast sane, and in fact led to what may be one of the most defining moments of his life in knife attack that led to his facial scarring (a moment brought up a few times over the course of the tape).
There are times in the tape where the rhymes are a bit basic and the cadences finessed to make the rhymes fit (where perhaps just dropping a preposition would be fine as listeners we’d make the connection of the tracks). Yet Rast is rapping with a controlled voice and very charismatic inflection. The most-horrific things said are delivered smoothly, at times with a sing/song inflection over instrumentals that would be relaxing in another context.
The back half of the project is full of very strong songs that hit again and again that “this is what I was but this isn’t what I am” as Rast recalls his past with less-wistfulness and more of a surprise that he survived. Rast’s history is really fascinating as he talks about a part of New York City that’s been violently scrubbed away. If he can channel this into straight-up storytelling where he’s structuring songs around events instead of just dropping them into verses, he could become a very strong contender.
Even with these “new rapper” strikes, Rast raps his ass off making Across West 3rd Street one of the more exciting debuts we’ve heard in a while.