By Nate Brazier, First Year English
On ‘Ethereal’, $NOT’s third and most star-studded album yet, the stand-out moments are led by the features as $NOT blends into their respective styles.
The rapper’s somewhat dime-a-dozen lyrical content has always been counterbalanced by his finesse for an undeniable hook, or general expertise at creating a ‘vibe’. In the fleeting moments where $NOT takes his 2010s Soundcloud rap influence and goes a step further creatively, he shines, but the rest of the time it feels derivative and hackneyed. It’s this inability to carve out a sound for himself and stick with it – masked as artistic versatility but coming off as shallow – that holds $NOT back.
With such A-class features, the LP isn’t without good moments. On the A$AP Rocky assisted ‘Doja,’ the production taps into the same haunting vocal samples as $NOT’s breakout hit, ‘GOSHA’, but he comes at the beat with a wildly different flow: barking in a hyped-up, Sheck Wes-esque style. On first listen, it comes off as a repetitive, boring refrain, but by the third listen it becomes an irresistible chant. Rocky brings his usual swagger and surefire flow, essentially outshining $NOT, as proves to be the case with most of the features on the album.
On another highlight of the tracklist, ‘EYE EYE EYE,’ Kevin Abstract brings out the best in $NOT over a stirring, smokey instrumental. With textural shifts, pops of pitched vocals and a mob-style hook, the cut stays exciting throughout. Abstract’s verse is like a breath of fresh air in the middle of the album, his shifting cadence and vocal timbre essentially providing two features in one.
A strong Playboi Carti influence can be felt throughout the album, especially on tracks like ‘5AM’ and ‘Euphoric.’ The instrumentals feel like ‘Whole Lotta Red’ offcuts, only without Carti’s off-the-wall vocal inflections. $NOT brings slightly more melodicism to save them from being complete pastiches.
The first lead single ‘Go’ packs considerable energy, and $NOT’s speedy flow feels exhilarating. The high octane Florida rap influence only makes a brief appearance, but feels like one of the moments where $NOT is in his element. Moving from New York to Florida at age seven undoubtedly influences his style, but in a way that could be tapped into far more.
On ‘How U Feel,’ $NOT is completely chameleonic to Joey Bada$$’ sonic aesthetic. The track is no less a hard-knocking boom bap banger, but detours entirely from the rest of the album. Again, on ‘Alone,’ Trippie Redd’s feature morphs the track into what simply feels like a Trippie Redd track, while $NOT blends into the scenery. A number of the tracks also fall into a very safe, nondescript brand of lo-fi hip hop, complete with acoustic guitar and finger snaps, such as ‘Blue Moon’ and ‘high iq.’
$NOT’s trend for brief, two-minute outings and rather skeletal instrumentals only contributes to the impression of hastiness and a lack of deep thought. His mumbly flow with distinctively doubled and panned vocals (as exhibited on ‘Halle Berry’) do bring a certain lowkey vibe that could almost be a trademark sound, if only it were to be further explored and manipulated. $NOT has previously made known his Memphis hip hop influence, as is evident in the chopped and screwed sections of the intro and outro – a brief moment of cohesion on the record. The rapper shapeshifts one last time on the outro for an attempt at a euphoric, Brockhampton-esque closer; it’s enjoyable but lacks any emotional depth.
On ‘Ethereal’, $NOT’s jack-of-all-trades eagerness to include a little bit of everything is executed in an artificial, surface-level way. Still relatively early in his career, with access to collaboration with some of the game’s most skilful rappers, there’s still potential for $NOT to strengthen his artistry and deliver music less imitative than that is on this album.
Featured Image: 300 Entertainment
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