Hailing from Florida, Grey Matter has spent the last nine years grinding hard and making a name for themselves, evidenced by the list of artists they’ve shared the stage with (KRS-One, Wu Tang Clan, Pharaohe Monch, Guru, Solillaquists of Sound, Nas, and so many more). Consisting of producer TEMPERMENTAL and rapper Illustrate, the duo has found time outside of teaching at Full Sail University in Orlando to drop their first full length, the incredibly deep and thought-provoking self titled Grey Matter. It’s a far cry from the mainstream hip hop records, and even most of the indie records, primarily because of the easily-relatable subject matter and well crafted beats, with topics focusing on failed relationships, struggling to survive in this tanking economy, and some very twisted tales that are meant to offer a life lesson.
There are a lot of standout tracks on this record, fusing brilliantly wise lyrical writing with rounded, thick production reminiscent of Maker. The track “Choices” takes a centrist point of view, offering two different approaches to handle various realistic scenarios. One of the more interesting lines is: “You can bust your ass at the job, even put in overtime/Save up all your money just to buy your girl a diamond ring/Or you could use that money to buy tickets to Sierra Leone/And show her how they treat the people that be mining them stones.”
Another great track is “Understanding,” which details life within a home where the mother and father don’t get along very well, leaving the son in a very uncomfortable and awkward position. It’s a very intriguing story that could pertain to just about any family—the father does what he can to provide, even though it means being dishonest about where the money comes from, causing friction and arguments. The twist in the last line helps drive home the dramatic story.
One track that is very difficult to listen to is “Breathe,” not only due to the subject matter, but because Illustrate paints such a vivid portrait that it’s difficult to not empathize with. It’s told from the eyes of a son who was abandoned by his father, first blaming himself for believing he was the cause of his father’s desire to leave. It then shifts to anger at him for putting the rest of the family in such an unfortunate state of affairs, to the resolution of understanding the “why” but disagreeing with the choices his father made. Whether or not the audience can relate, the way the words are crafted makes “Breathe” another song that’s hard to not feel anything.
The most brutally painful song is definitely “Dishwater,” which walks though the various emotional steps immediately following a bad breakup. I first heard this song three years ago after a good friend caught Grey Matter opening for Solillaquists of Sound, right after he and his fiancé broke off their engagement a month before the wedding date. The depth of hurt and pain is conveyed perfectly through Illustrate’s writing, mated by TEMERMENTAL’s dark and chilling production. However, listening to this song is a great release for anyone who has gone through a recent breakup and needs to identify with the emotional gauntlet that ensues.
Thankfully, Grey Matter isn’t all sorrow and misery for the duration of the record. “Reflect” is a very centering song that reminds people to live life with a sense of gratitude and encourages shedding the self-entitlement that’s so overly present in most rap music. Illustrate eschews the typical narcissism by talking about other people who have the flashy material possessions and compares that to homeless people who have basically nothing, suggesting it’s so much better to just have a job and income than to be living on the streets; it’s okay to not have that wealthy lifestyle that so few people actually have—just be content with what you do have.
At times, Grey Matter’s eponymous LP can be extremely exhausting, but it still manages to be completely fulfilling. Granted, some tracks can really be a bummer, but the content is very easy for the common man to relate to and is sure to strike a chord at least once with anyone willing to give it a fair shake. The stories are full of unexpected twists and the entire record is one that’s difficult to fully absorb with one listen. Even though it’s mood music, the colorful writing requires close attention paid to it. Illustrate is a phenomenal writer, if bleak and at times depressing, but is too skilled to ignore. This is one of those rare records that could be pulled out periodically without ever getting sick of, and it’s perfect for anyone going through a breakup or emotionally traumatic event. Grey Matter has its place in modern music just as any party record or club-friendly rap artists, it just calls for a slightly different mindset and mood, and definitely shouldn’t be slept on.
Grey Matter-Play It On The Radio
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