Review Summary: To be genuine.
Siul Hughes continues his journey of being the anti-emcee. He’s humble to a fault when he has license to brag; he liberally participates in self-deprecation, downplaying his game and accentuating his insecurities; and he refuses to play the social media landscape, preferring instead to remain cloaked behind metaphors and a name referencing how he can perceive the colorful hues that comprise any hu(e)man. It’s an approach seemingly predestined for perpetually flying under the radar--something Hughes himself seems to take pride in on “NO FEATURES,” observing how his firmly-rooted underground status has generated barely any guest verses from fellow artists. His sixth record, coming off the heels of the dark, soul-bearing storytelling of the HUGHES
EP, reveals yet another facet of the enigmatic rapper, another mirror held up to his lurking struggles. Production credits are predictably brief and external contributions are limited to a bare minimum, leaving Hughes and his trademark tell-all lyricism at the center of it all, maneuvering through reserved, dreamlike beats that possess surprising depth behind their somber exteriors.
While the aforementioned HUGHES
release hinted at a more trap-heavy, aggressive effort, HUEMAN TOO
sees the young emcee again branching off on a somewhat different path. Though sharing a title with his 2020 record, the two discs are relatively distinct; where HUEMAN
was more of a wandering construction, dabbling in various styles and sonic motifs, its successor presents a focused, consistent direction that dispels the autotune, pitch-shifted vocals, playful instrumentals and silly prose a la “INANET.” Siul’s vision remains locked inward, a phenomenon encapsulated by a production that favors melancholic piano loops, gentle synth motions, and layers of electronic ambiance that fluctuate in the background, subtly accentuating Hughes’ verses. The bass presence is relatively subdued, granting space to occasional soul vocals and horn samples, but its reverberating tone still sets a reliable foundation, urging the album’s slow-to-mid-tempo passages forward. There’s a pristine level of polish to proceedings; everything, from the echoing keys to the rapper’s voice, elegantly drift through the brief LP, creating an atmosphere of tranquility offset by raw lyricism and the moody undertones from the beats.
What emerges is a release that could comfortably fit under the umbrella of an artist such as late-career Lupe Fiasco with a sprinkling of Ab-Soul’s relentless introspection: light jazz flavoring with delicately somber beats that assist in supporting lyrical narratives as opposed to trumping them. In this environment, Hughes absolutely flourishes; his emotive voice ranges from a morose, droning bass to an energetic, shouted delivery that splatters his intentions bare across a track, wonderfully displaying his undisguised words. As expected, these narratives are grounded in Hughes’ personal experiences, ranging from the graceful, spacey synths of “IZA’S TALE” that surround tales of growing up and the aforementioned “NO FEATURES”--a banger that sees two separate beat changes, shifting from cascading pianos notes to a more trap-inspired beat and then to a distorted synth--that sees Hughes attack false friends and emcees while standing steadfast by his underground integrity. His uncloaked expressions catch him lamenting “Don’t tell me you see me, I don’t see it / Don’t tell me you feel me, I don’t feel it / Don’t tell me you miss me, I don’t believe it,” in “CHARACTER,” and musing about if he met Andre 3000 in closing track “STRONG FRIEND”:
“Still wanna meet Andre, don’t even wanna talk about rap.
He’s an only child, I’d ask about that.
Like how you keep composure with the world weighing down on your shoulder?
When all you want peace with your brother, hold your mother closer?
And how you do it all while staying sober,
And if you never met Erykah, do you think you’d be who you supposed to?”
The prevailing theme throughout HUEMAN TOO
--really, the entire modus operandi of the Siul Hughes vision--is the concept of sincerity: how it is portrayed by others, how it translates to social media, how much of it is actually
sincere or simply faking, the boundary between keepin’ it real and pretending, and Hughes’ quiet desperation as he tries to gather answers. This idea is touched on through the ghostlike interior of the title track, and “GENUINE” similarly wrestles with the concept of putting on a front, being a character, having a ‘brand,’ and wherever an artist’s true feelings reside--as well as not having genuine actions reciprocated or respected. No matter what label is employed, it is
a label--something Hughes strives to avoid having, tags be damned. Such is the path of the anti-emcee--a rapper seeking to be nothing else but himself, through and through, and defined on his own terms. In that regard, HUGHES
is the strongest statement of intent from the young creator, and a triumphant, emotional release from a criminally underrated talent in the underground.