Image from chrisorrickraps.bandcamp.com
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Many rappers don’t come from the dog-eat-dog world that much of the media has been portraying since Rap’s inception in the music scene. Much of Rap’s historical provocateurs have been expressing these themes and emotions through their music, so it’s understandable why people would paint Rap music as a singular mosaic.
Once Rap and Hip-Hop music began to hit the pinnacle after 2010, the genre feigned to the stereotyping and became an abode for anyone with savant lip technique and poetic capability to join in and prove themselves worthy. Even though it seems to be that most rappers today feel that same sentiment, MF Doom was the only rapper I could recall who relayed that statement back in 2011 at a lecture at Redbull Music Academy.
As a result, many rappers began to flourish from unexpected areas and painted a portrait of their own experience from their hometown. Lyricists such as Chris Orrick hailing from the eminence of Detroit have catalyzed this movement. Orrick, formerly known as Red Pill, has been rapping since the age of twelve, as has since held Rap music as one of his main focuses ever since then. His new album Portraits is another reminder about his love for the genre.
Ever since Orrick has left the pseudonym of Red Pill, Orrick’s name has been passed along from the incrementally rising label, Mello Music Group, who also represents rappers Oddisee and Quelle Chris. Portraits is sincerely the title that represents the whole album as a whole. In this project, Orrick describes the daily life from a human outlook, stories that relate to anyone living in the western, corporate, or blue collar world.
Orrick hazily blends the technique of rapping and essentially story-telling in this album. He articulates his thoughts clearly and enunciates at the level where it’s humanly cut throat and vulnerable. For the twelve songs, Orrick displays his decrepit view of the modern world and his inner demons, but not to the point of despair. With his storytelling, his lyrics stride over Jazzy loop instrumentals that sometimes create upbeat, even frivolous tones.
If you are familiar with the old-school transition cards that would act as conduits from an episode to the commercials on Adult Swim before 2010, that would describe the aesthetic for the first track, Self-Portrait. The instrumental is a cloudy dyad of old-school hip-hop drums and snares and a mystifying and lo-fi chord play. Orrick speaks over this hazy sound with a portray of self-effacing and demoralizing character breakdown, ending the song with “I hate the way you hate yourself.”
The next song, Stories, is as clear and transparent as its title assumes. He raps about the daily labor of working for a small paycheck and loving the smell of diesel in the morning. The mantra this song expels is about how many stories don’t need to have any thematic significance in them and are only portrayals of daily lives.
Although many of these songs don’t delve so deep into the emotion Orrick articulates, they’re nonetheless understandable. In the song Lazy Buddies, the beat undulates under Orrick’s naked evocation about the feelings and temptations with his partner. The song would talk about wanting to share wine in Paris with his lover and live in a small complex with a cat in a humble environment.
Many of the tracks here delve deep into a familiar yet unflinching territory. My personal favorite track from the album, Escape Plan, dilutes the emotion when creating the story of a young hustler claiming to “sticking to his escape plan” as life continues to claw and sear his daily grind. In the end, he speaks to himself in the form of introspection, claiming that his escape plan will eventually be his path to greatness.
What I really like about this project, which seems to be a basic but misunderstood formula for Rap music, is how the beat truly flows well with the storytelling. When Orrick is angry, the beat is unnerving and austere. When Orrick speaks towards internal peace, the beat flows smoothly. This is exemplified in the song Jealous of the Sun, which was produced by Onra. Orrick nearly pontificates about his anxious observations in today’s tumultuous times. He raps about the tyrant billionaires, the science deniers, and the discouraging political environment overall.
The song Mom involves a beat undeniably inspired by J Dilla. The melancholic beat rides along Orrick’s letter to his mother who had passed away and missed much of the significant moments in his life. It is a short but sweet track nonetheless. The final track in the album, What Happens Next, is unclear whether he is speaking to the listener or to himself. The question itself doesn’t matter, because this whole album, which wraps up in the last track, talks about the human life itself.
Although rapping at a tender age, Orrick followed the same route many of us will and have followed. He is a college graduate who took a blue-collar job and decided, this route shouldn’t be the only route meant to give meaning. Portraits could essentially relate to anyone following their dream in twenty-first century America. His stories tell the familiar tales of love, exhaustion, and daily labor. He reaffirms throughout the project that he is only human and will eventually make mistakes. The whole point is that we try out best and move on with our lives, and if anyone should be telling us that, Chris Orrick would be a good figure to do so.