Review Summary: Keepin' it real, but actually.
How many times has the following been written?
“When [insert release here] clicks, it sounds so good. During those moments when it is not firing on all cylinders or otherwise faulters, it quickly loses intrigue.”
Naturally, that’s my personal version, but the underlying point stands: Some albums shine brilliantly when their numerous parts fall into place. There’s no helping a sense of things being incomplete, however, in formations where pieces are scattered or altogether absent. In a crowded industry cluttered by hip-hop records hurling twenty-something songs at a time—the commercial equivalent of throwing an entire box of darts at a board, fingers crossed for high streaming numbers—Hueman
is remarkably refreshing, demonstrating highlights that truly immerse the listener, simultaneously exhibiting a relatively concise duration and associated track list. Now five albums deep into a career in music, solo artist Siul Hughes’ latest resonates as an artist comfortable in their direction, creating a separation from the influences that formerly leaned close over his shoulder. Such inspirations continue to linger in some capacity; it’s difficult not to identify Milo in the restrained, contemplative writing Siul embarks upon, or perhaps shades of Lupe in the personal storytelling woven within the disc’s framework, and a dash of Ab-Soul on the choice sections of aggressive rapping. Regardless of these connections, behind the mic, Hughes is able to command a track per his individual strengths with commendable flow, compelling lyricism, and a charismatic delivery that easily transforms per the tonality of each included cut. Ideas are methodically condensed as opposed to spread thin over a gigantic list. Using piano-fronted melodies liberally, Hueman
strives to construct a generally somber, reflective atmosphere surrounding the tunes, employing elements of trap to punctuate the instrumental backing. Though they are compositionally engaging, the vocals of Hughes are at the forefront of the release, the beats subservient to the artist’s pen game.
The objective here is not necessarily to woo the audience with extravagant production, but instead to place the listener in Siul’s shoes, taking every step through his uncertainties, trials, and battles against mental health. The Connecticut gent sounds perfectly at home in introductory number “Still Doubting,” the electronic beat pulsing underneath a robust delivery, Hughes’ voice resounding with a certain grit built into his tone as he unburdens his internal reservations. Both the momentum established in this entry and the implementation of an introspective mood carry onwards for the remainder of the 50-minute journey. Whenever the latter factor is focused upon, the disc conjures forth a compelling melancholia that beautifully outlines the dilemmas faced by the narrator. In this regard, “PTSD” and “Moments in Time” are definite highlights. The aforementioned songs practice a sort of distant disposition in their beat construction, controlled instrumentation sounding cold as Hughes stands alone, morosely expressing his emotions. What makes “PTSD” so memorable is the second half of the creation wherein distant singing and subtle drumming overtake proceedings, droning in the background before using an evocative sample to gradually fade out. Similarly, “Moments in Time” extends the prose of Siul as its primary characteristic, allowing the MC to draw the listener in with his sincere presentation. Driving the personal escapade forward is an expertly-designed crescendo as the refrain rises in volume, a detached female choir vocal echoing amidst the downhearted ambience. Other instances showcase the rapper’s ability to unleash a string of bars, with the chief example being “Where the Heart Is.” Once the orchestral sampling and pop-esque refrain are dismissed halfway through, the track embarks upon an unexpected tonal shift. From there, Hughes runs away with the beat, morphing the song into an absolute monster to reckon with.
Cryptic wordplay is not the greatest asset in the toolkit of Hueman
, as more often than not Hughes tackles the topic at hand directly. Such is why the prior tunes can instantly relate to a given audience or least be respected; the man’s soul is cut open, leading to what feels like a very genuine experience. There’s something captivating in the artist’s candid descriptions in the hazy “Selfworth” and companion entry “Selfluv,” attention placed upon a significant other that fails to see themselves positively—a surprisingly wholesome foray for a hip-hop product. Then there is the unassuming audio clip of Hughes discussing frustrations over being neglected and alone in “Stick to Rap pt.4.” The playful melody, utilizing a looping female crooning, belies the unbridled honesty Siul belts out, along with an admittance that he hasn’t exactly made it; sure, the music pays the rent, as he confidently states, but the fans are either few or fake. It’s yet another subversion on what one may expect from a MC, because the braggadocio is completely absent. Shortcomings like the sample-heavy “Kamehameha” and its misguided autotune usage are minimized in the context of emphasized candor, as it serves the admirable flow of the album and aids its overarching themes. The potential lack of originality in Siul’s basic sound is more than compensated for by the personality he brings to the table: His own, not a character. Upon the entrance of the booming, bombastic “Onto Sumn,” Hughes rises to the mic with a swagger that could command an entire club, while on “PTSD” he is mumbling, self-critical, and vulnerable. Each variation here is exactly who the artist is both on and under the surface. The various arrangements lining the runtime of the disc are excellent for their generally understated quality, providing a perfect stage of Siul and his pensive brand of rap. And when on that stage, Hughes is Hughes, pouring his heart into his performance, slipping into morose pianos in depression or desperately calling to action against injustice.
Not much more can be written except that when Hueman
clicks, it sounds so good. The secret behind it, rather fittingly, is how human it is. Per Siul’s vision, it is a very real
experience, and is so much the better for it.