On their summertime mixtape “O/X2,” the Outsiders basically stuck to the formula that made their debut such a great listen — let the vocalists establish their style on some solo tracks, then see how those styles mesh on a few collaborations. The difference this time around was that each of the group’s producers was given a chance to shine. Doza and C4 came in strong with bright, cartoonish beats, but faruhdey went in another direction entirely, leaving a personal message over a beat that sampled Eddie Holman’s “Hey There Lonely Girl.” There was something intangible and sad about the instrumental under faruhdey’s message, as if you were hearing it through a wall — or, more accurately, trying to summon it from memory, recalling a place or people associated with it.
faruhdey’s first full-length album, “SO(u)L,” sees him continue to refine his unique production style, experimenting with new styles and moods. As listeners, we get to hear how he feels, what makes him tick. We get to know the cast of characters in his circle, from his brother to his fellow Outsiders as well as other musical collaborators. We even know the movies that he has on his shelf — “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome,” “The Book of Eli” and “The Hunger Games” are all sampled on the album. Another film, “Akira,” is paid homage in the album cover. Across its 13 tracks, “SO(u)L” leaves plenty of room for faruhdey to establish his own sound and vision, but never feels as if he’s spreading himself too thin or losing focus; this is why it succeeds as an album.
Take the album’s lead single, “Left Open.” The production doesn’t veer too far from the formula he established on his debut EP, “Shirley [1942-2016]” — pitch-shifted vocal clippings and steady, crisp percussion. “I’mma do it like ‘Ye did it,” EAGLEBABEL raps, sounding off about Chicago pride and a hardworking girlfriend. It’s a classic Outsiders song that would have fit perfectly on “O/X2,” until connie.k comes in and reminds you that this isn’t just an Outsiders affair. connie.k’s verse is spectacular, leapfrogging off of EAGLEBABEL’s with some instantly-memorable couplets: “I know you got a body, but I need your mind / Got a penny for your thoughts, shit, I’d pay you a dime.”
“There Are Monsters,” the second single, is another beast entirely. The sound is less chipmunk soul than spooky atmospherics, featuring vocals from new collaborators Stephen Henderson and Lizzie No. The lyrics are difficult to make out, and the ones that are audible are kind of generic, but it’s less important to pay attention to what Henderson and No are saying than how their vocals sound. faruhdey’s production seems to weave their voices in and out of the background, as if they were instruments — and what lovely instruments they are. The track is well-composed and well-produced, even if it functions more like a mood piece, albeit a very enjoyable one.
As faruhdey has demonstrated on various Outsiders cuts as well as “Shirley [1942-2016],” he’s a talented producer who knows how to take a short sample and turn it into the backbone of a song. Check out how he starts “Brunch” with a line from the Manhattans’ “Wish That You Were Mine” before Najee Janey and brother B. Russ trade sweet, devotional verses: “I just want to make you warm, baby / No sweaters involved, just arms, baby,” coos the former, while the latter praises that “when the god was writing history boards, baby, he thought of us.” About half an hour later, on standout track “Injustice,” Michael & Janet Jackson’s “Scream” is worked into a beat that simmers while Eli Arbor boils over with a rap inspired by the Stanford 68. “What’s a scar but evidence you’ve survived / In a world where you can’t make it out alive?” Arbor asks as the song goes silent.
Some of the best moments on the album come from the new faces. connie.k on “Left Open” is a highlight, as is Jessica Lá Rel on “You,” in which she delivers a performance so massive that faruhdey’s beat literally fades away to make room for her. Lá Rel’s voice, in whatever she does, is unfailingly gorgeous, conveying sweeping emotion even in the absence of words. But it’s Rapsody — yes, the same Rapsody who guested on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” — who delivers what may be the best performance on the album. “I appreciate your confidence for not leavin’ me, baby / Having conversations with myself, but I ain’t crazy / I’m just a winner,” Rapsody boasts, murdering the beat and leaving Kadesia Woods and B. Russ to clean up the body.
With the diversity of featured artists, perhaps the only consistency from track to track is the quality of faruhdey’s production — and even then, “consistency” isn’t quite the right word, because it covers such a wide array of styles. “Shadows” and “There Are Monsters” are slow, brooding beats that hang like a heavy fog, at odds with the likes of the bright and open sounds of “Brunch” and “Reign Supreme.” The transition on “You” from hip-hop shuffle to piano ballad and back again is masterful. The curdled groove of “Wavy” makes for an immediate earworm, and leaves the question open if faruhdey wanted to switch out the soul in favor of funk on his next outing.
“This is the most massive hip-hop project to come out of Stanford thus far,” executive producer EAGLEBABEL said ahead of the album’s launch. “It looks like we’ve been expanding our family, but it’s really the same family.” Although some have been claiming a “Stanford hip-hop” scene for a few years, it’s only within the last year or so that it’s started to come together, aided in no small part by the release of “O/X1” last year and subsequent solo releases from EAGLEBABEL, Jae, connie.k and Eli Arbor. If the Outsiders have established themselves as Stanford’s hip-hop Avengers, then “SO(u)L” is their “Captain America: Civil War” — the moment where everything that has come thus far finally comes together for the big picture. From here on out, every Stanford rapper will be judged by the standards that the Outsiders set.
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.