Mixtape Breakdown – Young L – Enigma Theory

Posted: May 17, 2012 in Hip Hop, Mixtape Breakdown
Tags: , , , , , ,

From the opening left to right fading vocal sample followed by mischievous laughter, and humming bass and finally crashing into the peaceful singing of Sea of Bees, on “Automated Oceans,” it’s clear that Young L has not brought his listeners the traditional rap mixtape.  Conceptually, Enigma Theory primarily revolves around themes of struggle, depression, pain, and perseverance.   In contrast the production is airy, lighthearted, and ethereal, often driven by bassed-up vocal samples and synths.  With the exception of a handful of tracks, the drums on the album are sparse timekeepers, occasionally non-factors in the equation, bringing more emphasis on bass, vocals, and fading effects to accentuate the rhythm and tempo of the music.

While the production on the mixtape has already drawn comparisons to the work of Clams Casino, and there are similarities, it’s important to notice that the work of the two is distinct in a few ways, and has developed in a similar time frame.  Clams has become known, due to his work with Lil’ B on songs like “I’m God,” and “Motivation,” A$ap Rocky’s “Wassup,” “Demons,” and “Palace,” as someone ushering in a new phase of airy vocal sampling.  While Young L may be more noted for his more hyphy relevant work with artists from the Bay, including his group The Pack, Young L has encorporated elements of this approach for a few years as well, Mike Dash’s “Sides,” Lil’ B & Young L’s “Randy Moss,” Freeway’s “HAM Extreme,” Mac Miller’s “Diamonds & Gold,” Steezy Steve’s “Shit You Read About,” (which flips the same Enya sample as The Fugees’ “Ready or Not“) all showcased his interest and adeptness at executing music in this vein.  However, here Young L takes his approach to the next level, and rather than bringing in a guest emcee to benefit from his skills behind the boards, he uses the mixtape as a billboard for his own notoriety, much in the same way that some of the great producers with mic skills have done in the past (eg Jay Dee, Madlib, Pete Rock, Alchemist, Oh No, Diamond D).

The most notable aspects of Enigma Theory are primarily production related.  Young L is serviceable as an emcee, with good inflection, energy, and emotion on the mic, and there are certainly moments on the mixtape where he shines on the mic, primarily for effectively augmenting the mood of the production stylistically.  In that vein, the album’s most powerful track is the title track, “Enigma Theory,” where Young L works to channel the pain of losing friends and family, while remarking on the crabs in a barrel mentality that dominates his neighborhood, and the lack of support and unity even among family members.  The track itself is a layered masterpiece with an almost unrecognizably human vocal sample fading right to left, guitar riffs dropping in, and everything continuously rising to a crescendo and then fading quickly into nothingness (a theme throughout the production on the mixtape as whole).

Young L is clearly conscious of the success that has hovered around him, and despite his involvement with Lil’ B, Soulja Boy, The Pack,  and as a producer for various artists in the Bay and beyond, L frequently takes time on the album to speak on a desire to breakout and shine on a broader scale.  “My Name,” is a proclamation of L’s dedication to continue to work until he reaches the fame that he deserves.  While “Enigma Theory” for many reasons is the album’s strongest cut, there’s no denying the appeal of “Powder Blue Pills,” which in only the second track on the mixtape has Young L comfortable abandoning rap, to auto-croon over a pulsing, drumless, synth-laced backdrop contemplating the humanity of himself and others among pills and gold.

While the first half of the album thrives on the juxtaposition of lighthearted upbeat airy backdrops with lyrics of pain, strife, contemplation, and depression, that changes starkly starting with the Mr. Hudson assisted “Heart of a Lion.”  “Heart of a Lion” along with “I’m that N*gga” shift the mixtape from a position of angst and pain into a position of dominance.  “I’m that N*gga,” revisits Sea of Bee’s material, by sampling the opening riff of “Marmalade,” and re-imagining it into one of the albums hardest tracks, a based freestyle of redundant self-importance.  Those two tracks along with “V.IL” and “Monster” show the albums edgier and darker side, moving beyond the struggle and declarations of existence that dominate the first half of the album into some real venom:

“Debating if people is really on to something / I’m the chosen one, rockin’ black and golden ones, J’s on / wetter than Noah’s Ark, fake n*ggas with them shades on / show ya motherf*ckin’ soul boy.” – Young L “Monster”

With one instrumental interlude in the middle, and Young L’s remix of Yeasayer’s “I Remember” features no rapping whatsoever, and the “Kains Ave Freestyle,” from Lil’ E and BP, which doesn’t feature L tagged onto the end, there are really only nine full blown Young L songs here, but it’s more than enough to convey a really profound and cohesive musical vibe and a lot of stress, emotion, and dedication.  With so much stylistic variation in his production, it remains to be seen whether Young L’s Enigma Theory is a brief departure, or whether this will constitute a new phase of development in his work.  Either way Enigma Theory is a vibrant statement of purpose that should be talked about among the best produced pieces of rap music all year long.

Enigma Theory is a mixtape that should not really be enjoyed through youtube clips.  They are attached her for reference, but the mixtape is available for free online through various outlets and I recommend downloading it and listening to it in the intended quality.

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