Better Days Tomorrow is quite a different experience than the Young Solomon mixtape, and for many different reasons (which I will humbly attempt to elucidate below).
Chicago’s flow wizard Dave Amazin’ had been hyping this project for months prior to its release, primarily through colorful twitter musings and the fleeting sneak-peek track previews via his tumblr. Whereas I caught a heads up on Young Solomon in the final days of 2013, instantly downloaded it, and was hooked by track two, Dave made us all play the waiting game this time around – months of anticipation manifesting themselves in nearly two full days of furious twitter updating, searching for a download link to drop. While Young Solomon is immediately consumable with its mostly 2-minute bite sized tracks, BDT definitely takes a few visits and re-visits to unpack and discover everything beneath the surface.
Dave recently turned 21 years old, an artificial milestone in America at which boys are magically transfigured into men, introduced to the “real world” and finally forced to “grow up” in an existential sense, no longer a physical one. This dynamic informs much of the material on this tape, with Dave’s persona grappling between mature and reflective/rebellious and dismissive, sometimes displaying a mix of both. The first lyrics out of Dave’s mouth on Better Days – “This one’s for Jake…” – are a dedication to a friend lost too soon. He makes sense of the tragedy, allowing it to engulf him and propel him throughout the rest of the tape, perhaps into a better day tomorrow. After his vocal lead in, the low end of the bass drops in at Christopher Nolan-Inception-bwaahh-soundtrack proportions, a feature which is pretty constant throughout the tape (not to say it’s overdone) and one of the immediately noticeable developments from Young Solomon.
When I heard “Sucka,” the most recent track Dave previewed for his fans before the drop, I knew that this mixtape would be a whole different experimental animal for the MC. The production blends synthy arpeggios into an unrelenting upbeat track, interspersed with alien sounding (but welcome) samples of acoustic drum fills. Definitely not the easiest track to spit over, but Dave maneuvers it with grace, allowing his flow to lag ever so slightly behind the forward leaning percussion. If gunfire and ambulances are “cool,” he’d rather be a lame, he insists. He warns his listeners not to let suckas kill their dreams, just as he won’t let a sucka kill his. “Me & You” is striking both as an open letter to an ex-lover, as well as a shrine to the MC’s influences. The syrupy chords at the beginning nod to an R&B sensibility, while the purp-aesthetic on the hook is a slight tip of the cap to Houston and UGK. There are trace elements of footwork music here as well, and the denouement of the track presents Dave as split personality a la Kendrick.
The four tracks smack in the middle of the mixtape are bangers in the best sense of the overused term. “All on My” and “Porcelain” employ that special brand of beat production that unapologetically open-hand slaps its listeners, best experienced while sitting in the steel echo chamber of an automobile with the volume cranked to the max. “Watch Yo’ Mouth” and “19&Dumb” are two examples of Dave’s perfect blend of consciousness and brazen bravado. He manages to stay cerebral and reflective over beats that just beg for some feel good. “Passive Aggressive” recalls that R&B sensibility from earlier, documenting Dave’s struggles with a “sexy masochist” and his own conflicted amorous feelings for her. “Eatin’” is a bit more Memphis than Houston, and on this track in particular, I find Dave to be at his best: where elsewhere on the tape he’s conversational, his command of his rhythmic patterns on this track makes every line he throws down over the leaning beat to sound like a hook. A feature by $moke Dawg counters Dave’s straight ahead patterns with a triplet feel that compliments the first verse quite well. “7082305” is the self-professed “…return of Young Solomon.” The off-kilter production of the first half of the track sounds like a lost Odd Future cut, but the breezy guitar sample of the second half brings a double dose of color to the previously industrial track.
“Peter Pan in a busted pair of J’s” is the narrator of “Neverland,” a smoky neo-soul drippy beat over which Dave tells a tale about pill popping and desensitization as a remedy for the diseased, bleak world outside. There seems to be something quite real behind the stories Dave tells on these kinds of tracks, like someone could read these raps in his autobiography. While “Cash” has the most plays on Dave’s soundcloud, it (personally) registered as a weaker track on the tape (probably only because I had to wait a full three minutes for some bars from Dave). But “Gained Clarity” swoops in with that earworm vocal sample that immediately printed itself on my mind, and is still stuck there for a bit. Over a difficult, tweaking, glitchy beat, Dave might as well be showboating with his flow by this point – it sounds like he’s keeping time for the beat, not the other way around.
What I love about Better Days Tomorrow so much is how varied the styles are from track to track (no two beats are credited to the same producer), and how much Dave Amazin’ has grown as an artist within the short space of a year. Chicago is a music scene so saturated with talent at the moment across all genres that it takes the best to shine through, and judging by this release, Dave is well on his way to busting out. If you all haven’t heard this mixtape yet, you’re sleeping.