On his official debut, "Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide," Hodgy shows remarkable maturity while being more sonically creative than ever.
"Yeah that fire inside. Not the head. Not what’s in your head. Your head will tell you they’re gonna shoot you. They’re gonna kill you. You ain’t gonna live. You know what I mean? You be like, 'I’m set up, I’m good.' You really don’t know that, right? You could have all the money in your pocket and you’re dead in five seconds. You know what I’m saying?”
This message from Hodgy's mother opens his new album, Fireplace: TheNotTheOtherSide. Despite the apparent morbidity of the sentiment, this contemplation on the inevitability of death (and overcoming it) lies at the center of the album. Fireplace is the perfect name for the project. Another major theme of the album is that adversity can create limitless internal strength; the title refers to the primordial fire in man's belly that fuels greatness and allows for the human manifestation of divinity.
Fireplace is an impressive hip-hop project that combines Hodgy’s immaculate rhythmic prowess with genre-bending sonics from producers like Knxwledge, 88-Keys, BADBADNOTGOOD, and Nottz. Hodgy has long been underrated, and much of Fireplacefeels like an acknowledgement of that fact. He sounds like a man who has been holding his breath for a long time. His urgency and passion are palpable in many of the songs, perhaps because death hangs over the whole project. On Fireplace, he sounds like he has gone to the abyss and come out a different person, somewhere on the "nottheotherside."
Although Hodgy’s pride in his growth is evident, the project also strongly invokes humility. Forgiveness and redemption are central to Hodgy’s relationship to growth, and “Resurrection” is easily one of the best tracks on the album. While "Barbell" presents a critique of the current state of the hip-hop industry, he gives the first verse on the album to up-and-coming artist Salomon Faye, who opens "Kundalini," the first track to play after his mother's intro. Perhaps Hodgy's move of letting Faye start things off is another lesson in humility or perhaps it is the maneuver of an artist who is secure in his skills and unfazed by conventions.
Fireplace is a deeply spiritual and sometimes psychedelic experience that sounds like one of the most genuine pieces of work I’ve heard this year. Despite it being his “debut studio album," Hodgy has been in the music industry for over 10 years now. The game has changed immeasurably since Odd Future first stepped onto the scene, with many changes taking place as a result of the collective's far-reaching influence. The idea of an “internet rapper” has mutated over the past few years, and the term now applies to many who do not seem to be representative of traditional hip-hop culture. Many would say, and Hodgy is sure to agree, that aside from a few exceptions, the bar (or the bar for bars) has been lowered and the music has been diluted. Does Hodgy blame himself for letting all the wack rappers live? At times, he seems to bear some responsibility, even though he's fighting to restore a sense of quality control.
It is also worth mentioning that the the three features on the album are excellent and that each artist holds a unique place in the hip-hop community.
The aforementioned Salomon Faye, born in Paris, based in Brooklyn, is an alchemic wordsmith with incredible potential. On "Kundalini," he comes out the gate booming, rapping “This life is in and out of meaning / Not looking for nothing, only seeing how we see it / Living words, television, air bending the definition of quality living / Shapeshifting, better plains of existence / Enter this dimension by the words of the sentence.” Hodgy deftly counters Salomon’s assault with, “When all hell breaks loose, the heavens prevail / Water signs and stars aligning, I just sat in a cell / 40 acres and a donkey, I'ma pin on the tail.” Their back-and-forth is such an intriguing exchange of wisdom that I had to listen twice before continuing the album.
Busta Rhymes has been in the rap game for a quarter-century now with hardly a wack verse to show for it. Hodgy seems to be inspired by the former Flipmode leader in taking the idea of a "rap attack" especially literally. He begins “Final Hour” with, “My duty’s to kill, causing havoc massacres / Extra protection man, wrap it up / I’m still alive cause I got that drive to crash and kill all the passengers, nigga fuck off and walk away afterwards.” Busta counters those sadistic lines with, "Relapse back to when I used to rob niggas like I really flashback / And then I, I make 'em feel it again, until I heal 'em again it's getting realer again / We got 'em frustrated, till we open the floodgate, that's how I kill 'em again.”
The final feature comes from Lil Wayne, who, despite having declined over the years, was arguably the best rapper alive at one point. On “Tape Beat,” he sounds something like his old self, rapping, "I’ma sleep with the semi and never let people get near me / When the reaper come get me that’s when I reap what I’m knitting / So you say you’re a gangsta I’ma need some convincing.” Though Hodgy has no trouble standing next to the undisputed legend, as evidenced by the following barrage: “Before you overreact to the heat and intenseness / You were weak and defenseless once you preceded the limit / Then it’s not a scrimmage, the game’s to ruin your self-seeking image.”
Hodgy, somewhere between the old vanguard and the rising elite, comfortably holds his own with everyone. Given Odd Future’s popularity and Hodgy’s nonlinear musical trajectory, it can be difficult to sort out where his music fits within the zeitgeist. By juxtaposing himself with such powerful acts, he manages to break free from the immaturity of his youth and affirms his status as a top-tier artist.
Given the sheer volume of high-profile music that has dropped lately, it's been tough to hone in on what releases deserve the most attention. In a time of gimmicky promotional tactics and persistent internet drama, this relatively understated album surely ranks within the top crop of hip-hop albums in 2016. I don’t usually like to make many comparisons between artists, but in many ways, Fireplace is similar to another underrated standout from this year, Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade. Both artists make use of funk and gospel influenced sonics to tell the stories of their struggles with darkness, their journeys toward enlightenment, and themes of forgiveness and redemption.
Even without taking the entirety of his career into account, the growth shown even from his last mixtape, Dukkha -- released in August of this year -- to now is immense. For so many of us, life seems to be growing increasingly tumultuous, and it is always good to hear music of substance -- and reflective of hardship -- that is sonically deeper than what we often hear from rappers labeled as "conscious." Fireplace is a piece of work that deserves repeated listening and extended studying. Most excitingly, it sounds like Hodgy is just starting to explore what he can do when he aligns his creativity with an unwavering confidence.