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Iamsu! Almost Escapes Bay Area Rap Vortex with Immersive ‘Sincerely Yours.’ Almost.

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Label: HBK Gang

Empowered by guest appearances on recent hits like Loverance’s “Up,” E-40’s “Function,” and fellow HBK gang talent Sage the Gemini’s “Gas Pedal,” Bay Area rapper/producer Iamsu! parlayed his raised profile into a series of whip smart solo mixtapes (Kilt, Suzy 6 Speed, and Kilt II) and a pair of infectious collaborative projects (Stoopid with Jay Ant and Million Dollar Afro with Problem) that took a bendy, less restricted approach to the West Coast’s spare sound of the moment. And like the majority of mixtape maestros crafting their album proper once they’ve got a formidable collection of free downloads behind them, ‘Su uses his higher profile and presumably larger budget to make his debut, Sincerely Yours, sound more expansive (and expensive), and pack in some additional star power (2 Chainz, Sage the Gemini, Wiz Khalifa, Too $hort, and E-40 all appear).

On the intro track, a nearly new age beat pitter-patters while Iamsu! crawls onto the song Drake-like, spitting/crooning a few famous lines from Houston rap legend Pimp C, all of it coated with a heaping experimental helping of Auto-Tune. The next song, “No Secret,” contains keyboards from Tears For Fears’ “Head Over Heels,” vocoded background vocals of the Roger & Zapp variety, and a chorus that nods to late great Oakland hyphy hero Mac Dre’s classic “Feelin’ Myself.” Iamsu! artfully incorporates whatever the hell grabs his ears and weaves it around sturdy, booty club bass gulps and street rap snaps and claps (two more out-there highlights: the wailing blooz and Yello “Oh Yeah” drum pumps of “Stop Signs”; the psychedelic doom metal riffing on “Interlude II”). He is doing to so-called “ratchet music” what similarly open-eared maximalist Kanye West did to the soul beat back in the mid-2000s.

Breezy content over butt-moving beats and heady soundscapes is the move on Sincerely Yours, making it an immersive, fascinating listen. A little too often, though, Iamsu! gets stuck on a heartening if typical “I finally made it” narrative. It’s time rappers understood that while their ascent stories may matter a great deal to them, they leave listeners cold if they lack specificity. This is especially vital in ‘Su’s case, because his album is at its best when sound and sentiment work in tandem.

This is the case on the title track, which runs through ‘Su’s life tragedies with a stoic delivery that communicates stiff upper lip perseverance: “Daddy hit mommy/ Mommy left daddy, so long/ Grandaddy passed/ I’m hugging on granny, hold on/ I ain’t seen nobody cry in so long/ I sit back and wonder how everybody is so strong.” On “Girls,” which is all aquatic synths, decaying strings, and clanking percussion, Iamsu! paints a touching portrait of the girl he’s hollering at (he spotted her shooting photos with a disposable camera at the flea market; she’s a yoga enthusiast), affording her a personality, still a rarity in supppp gurrrrl rap songs. “Ascension” kicks off by skittering like Squarepusher and concludes as a jazz fusion rap opera about fame’s effects on a relationship; the scrunched-up funk of “Problems,” about smoking too much weed, wedges in some challenges to the American education system.

Iamsu!’s music doesn’t need to be more explicitly “important” by way of political or personal asides. He is a product of the Bay Area, after all, the land of innovative beatmakers and purposefully low stakes termite rappers. But the moments where his lofty sonic ambition is answered with compelling content suggests the potential for a truly singular plateau jump. It just doesn’t happen enough, here. Sincerely Yours, then, remains another sturdy addition to the discography of one of rap’s more thrilling creatives.