by Kyle Taylor |
This very well may turn some people off, but that’s okay. Hopefully it will change some listeners’ minds on what hip hop can be. It’s also going to suck a lot of people into a realm of hip hop far and few between have ever explored. New York artist- and more specifically, poet- Dylan Owen has shaped the genre to fit his individual thoughts and experiences. Frequently the process is the opposite, and not just in hip hop: artists mold their approach to whatever genre or genres they’re working with. That wasn’t enough for Owen though. The closest thing the 22-year-old artist can really be compared to is Macklemore, and still there, it’s a long walk for a short drink of water.
Owen’s writing and flow leave his tracks floating freely somewhere between hip hop and spoken word. He does still call upon enchanting hooks and melodious singers, but the utilization of these elements is so consistently authentic and honest, they only radiate heart-wrenching emotions through their sincerity, leaving any inclinations of cheesy, overdone productions hung out to dry.
It’s quite possibly the “production” behind Owen’s mesmerizing, delicate voice that allow him to avoid these negative connotations. Many of Owen’s hooks could push his tracks over the edge of pop music had they been placed atop an obvious synthesizer or keyboard progression, or some all too familiar 808 and hi-hat drum kits. Instead though, the compositions guide Owen’s voice to such soaring altitudes and dark, haunting valleys, relying on true musicianship.
It’s unclear whether these beats were produced by a single person using only software, but it seems extremely unlikely. A live performance of “This Incredible Life” certainly begs the question of how these tracks are originally arranged. Each and every song blends its underlying components together flawlessly, creating logically perpetuating compositions that highlight no particular element or instrument over another, while paving the perfect road for Owen’s unraveling thoughts.
This is by no means an attempt to place full credit to the producer or producers behind There’s More to Life, though; far from it, as Owen’s uncanny vocal rhythms set him just as far apart from other hip hop lyricists as the unorthodox beats distance themselves from that of any other producer. If you’ve been lucky enough to follow Owen since his early career, you can truly feel the raw honesty he consistently breathes into the microphone. Perhaps it is the suburban kid in me that draws my ears so savagely to Owen record after record; but truly, I believe it is his ability to make an issue out to be just as serious as it is, and no more. There’s plenty of toiling with emotional hardships and the ploys of growing up over the course of the record, but never does Owen try to be something he isn’t. He never pretends to be the tough kid from the block- even though his “My Name Is Dylan” freestyle certainly demonstrates an ability to diversify his sound. Hip hop was intrinsically not a genre for emotionally tapped kids from suburbia, but Owen has made it work without question.
Of course, it is every element working in perfect harmony that makes a truly commendable album, and that’s exactly what occurs within the confines of There’s More to Life. The perfect minimal touch of pop worked into what is undeniably one of the most “alternative” approaches to hip hop yet to be explored, the serenity of the underlying productions met with equally easing lyrics and a perfectly matched flow from Owen on each single without folly- all these characteristics carry just a single piece of the complex puzzle that is Owen’s newest record. Let it be known that this is not the first time Owen has achieved such raw perfection though. Sure, each new album looks to improve upon its predecessor, but the blooming beauty of Owen’s work seems almost inherent, showing itself consistently throughout his career. This new record is not a massive improvement upon past albums, but rather the next chapter in the Dylan Owen story, and that is what really gives the album its blissful fortitude.