Rappers prone to emotional scars was never unheard of—dig back to ‘88 for 3x Dope’s “Funky Dividends” and LL Cool J’s “I Need Love” in ‘87—but in recent years their presence is reflective of a larger youth-driven trend of ‘sadboy’ posturing. It’s a bleeding hearts club that exists outside of speculations regarding an emo-revival in indie music. From the Billboard charts of Drake’s 2 a.m. drunk dials to Child Gambino’s nerdy insecurities, our rappers present softer shells with a willingness to address existential crises. Even Danny Brown, whose rise was incumbent upon hedonistic toasts, departs to his internal monologue to question his party lifestyle. We are in an era of rap in which Jay-Z’s “Sensitive thugs, ya’ll all need hugs” lyric from 2001’s “Heart of the City” sounds like it was written from a bygone era of hypermasculinity and trauma buried behind the guise of stoicism as the American way. Enter independent’s answer to the major label sadboys, Antwon with his recently released Heavy Hearted in Doldrums—a record that struggles with being one of the guys and being an individual equally.
Technically his fourth album but billed as his debut, Heavy Hearted in Doldrums is Antwon’s most exposed record, at least in the front end. The first six songs deal with lessons in love and anguish, from the invisible walls of harbored deceit in “Don’t Care” to the nuances of modern loneliness on “Loser”. Communication breakdowns, unrequited love, and wanton groupies are the source of Antwon’s turmoil. With fame comes fewer people you can trust, and Antwon finds himself at functions with women willing to feign attraction.
With artists like Drake and Childish Gambino, their suffering stems from the burdens of fame. Early Danny Brown presented a conflicted drug dealer who’s seen inner city atrocities that guide him to vices, while OLD finds Brown alone in a hotel room in a foreign city wrestling with the consequences of success. Across the board, this is the dialogue, originally started by Kanye West and left unquestioned in its echoes, and it should be alienating—how is fame complaining not being vilified as 1%er problems? Antwon is a black sheep in this respect. While the source of his songwriting on Heavy Hearted stems from a crisis of fame, he keeps it out of the narrative. (The only reason I’m able to illustrate this point is because Antwon told me so in an interview.) His inner turmoil is not limited to his autobiography or his privilege (see also: burden) as a public figure. Heavy Hearted's greatest strength is its presence at functions and behind everyday windows looking out on rainy days, rather than behind velvet ropes and looking out on city lights from re-inforced, private high rise compounds.
While the sulk was only implied on last year's In Dark Denim, Heavy Hearted is temporarily bogged down with weighted explorations of his doldrums that cause Antwon to well up in the tear ducts. This is what it sounds like when thugs cry, more so than when Bizzy Bone first presented the tableau. On “Loser” he ponders “What the fuck's it take to share love in these modern days” and then follows up with love sprung details of coitus on “Baby Hairs”. The remainder of Heavy Hearted in Doldrums lapses into bravado, an escapists departure, disregarding his personal affairs that weighed down “During Mimis” and “Rain Song” for party songs like the Walsh-produced “Mr. Intercontinental” and Pictureplane’s “KLF ELF” (featuring Himanshu and Lakutis). Antwon enters the album heavy hearted, but nothing transforms beyond the addressment of unhappiness. The back half of the album regresses to hanging out with the homies for locker room banter and silver-tongued details of conquests. He’s written a good record backed by strong production courtesy of Shawn Kemp (Lil Ugly Mane’s alter-ego), Pictureplane, Walsh, Suicideyear, and Cities Aviv, but he exits on the assumption he can lapse into the same angst and grandiosity of last year’s In Dark Denim and we won’t notice after six love songs.