Review Summary: Effortlessly cool, calm, and collected.
The grass isn’t always greener on the other side- at least that’s the point Chuck Nasty would drive home on his debut full-length project. A young 20-something hailing from central Virginia, Chuck Nasty and his collective of fellow producers and rap artists known as Gryscl has released several short mixtapes and EPs over the past few years and have gained a loyal following in the local scene. The DIY aesthetic of the production and recording processes (much akin to how New York’s Pro Era or even Odd Future began) started humbly and has seen a meteoric quality increase with each cut. Poised to release the collective’s most impressive project to date, Chuck and crew succeed much more than they fall short.
The Tragedy of Calvin Klein Don tells the fictional story of a man with big dreams who, in the midst of a fit of depression and loneliness, plays the lottery and wins. He decides to take his winnings and use the money to fund an essentially endless party with his friends as a means of escaping his problems rather than dwelling in his sadness and finds that money only will buy temporary happiness before making things much more complicated. It’s a story that’s been done to some extents many times in the past but this rendition is done believably here. It’s visible where the fictional character’s perspective that Chuck tells the story from and his own real one parallel in some ways. He longs for the money, the fame, and the women he talks about here but also understands the more difficult lessons that The Don learns in much harder ways and that interplay makes each track come across as much more authentic.
The production has once again taken a much higher bump in quality from the last albums that Grayscale has released. The instrumentals are filled with variation- you won’t find 17 tracks of run of the mill radio trap fare here. Opener “40” immediately establishes a dreamy atmospheric synth base that allows Chuck to just comfortably ride over. Early standout banger “Beer Loaded Bodegas” introduces a horn loop and a thick drum groove that would be right at home on Section.80. “50 Shades of Gray” is filled with jazzy vocal and horn samples. Everything from cloud rap to jazzy boom-bap is done with great instrumental prowess here. Unfortunately even with many triumphs, production on this record still manages to be the source of some frustration. Some of the tracks end super abruptly and throw the flow of the record off. Samples of audience applause appear here a little longer and a little more frequently than they should to stay feeling fresh. The “skit” story aspect found occasionally is very quiet and easy to miss if you aren’t listening with headphones. Some of the samples seem a little high in the mix and come across as more distracting than adding to the final product (see: the vocal sample in Snow White on the Bluff), and there’s a particularly obvious clipping issue in the beginning synth loop of “Finding Nemo” that puts an otherwise very strong track off to an awkward start. However, even with these issues the instrumentals are varied and creative and form a very nice backdrop for Chuck’s flow.
The greatest strength found on The Tragedy of the Calvin Klein Don is Chuck Nasty himself. His flows are varied, his lyrics are strong, and his punchlines are clever and well thought out. He is able to inject some very real thoughtfulness into the inner psyche of The Don. The final third and strongest part of the album manifests itself in the Don going through many of the seven stages of grief. On “Final Fantasy” he wallows in his own depression and on “Finding Nemo” he laments upon wasting his time on the first half of the album with women who only give him momentary happiness. Hard-hitting single “Ænima Instinct” is on the other side of the instrumental spectrum completely and has Chuck spitting his most aggressive bars in the midst of feelings of anger and hopelessness. “A Maze” finds The Don repeating ‘*** it let’s get ***ed up, look what the world made me’ in a final display of arrogant acceptance. Track to track, Chuck often bases a song around a pop culture reference from the title to the metaphors found in the lyrics to the track. This typically works really well except for one particularly on-the-nose reference that transforms “Pussy Galore” from what would be a very fun track into a very ‘ok we get it’ scenario. Nonetheless, much more often than not Chuck is in his bag lyrically and his deep baritone rides every beat with impressive finesse. It comes across as effortlessly cool, calm, and collected.
The Tragedy of the Calvin Klein Don manages to bridge the gap from the days of hip-hop past to the present of cloud rap and hype as *** soundcloud protégés. There’s a little something here for everyone across the board and none of it feels out of place. Even with its shortcomings it’s a very exciting debut from a very promising artist and a very talented group of producers and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.
Final score: 3.7/5
Beer Loaded Bodegas