You ever get asked those party questions where you have to choose, say, three out of five options and, in the process, reveal where all your priorities lay? “Would you rather have a job done well and for cheap, but it wouldn’t be done fast? Or have it done well and fast, but it wouldn’t be cheap? Or have it fast and cheap, but it wouldn’t be good?” You could learn a lot about artists and their listeners by coming up with a “holy hip hop” version of that question. Maybe an artist would have to choose between hot production, stellar lyricisim and high sound quality. Which of the three does Fro W.U.N.D.A.S. go with on his feature length “Ultrasound” album? Read after the jump to find out.
The idea behind “Ultrasound,” as described in the jazzy “Intro (Let’s Go),” is that the 12-song album is a picture of what’s inside the child of God. All the opening track needs is a “So soulful don’t you agree” ad lib from Jay to complete it’s mellow picture. Lead single “Bloody Sunday,” with Sincere on the decent hook, serves it’s purpose well enough: It introduces the Virginia-bred emcee and his pop-concious sound in a four-minute time capsule that you can take and get a fair idea of what to expect from the rest of the project. The second collab with Sincere, “Run” is a stronger number in general that features a more recognizable chorus and a clearer mission statement. “Showtime” is another synthed-up, radio-ready drop that is fun-sized ear candy, but little else. Guest rapper Moses “Snowman” David brings a pinch of southern grit with his verse, whose voice sounds like a less bulky Pettidee verse, for better or worse. Again, the second collab with Snow is lengths ahead. “The Answer” is an album highlight thanks to a beat layered with vocal loops, upper-key violin strings and electric guitar wires and Fro’s detailed definition and defense of Christian hip-hop as a separate entity to the industry standards.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for retrospection, but the highest points of the album are of the reflective variety. “Motivation” is a synth-fueled slow burner, steered by simple drum loops that projects the picture of an athlete with a towel over his head in the empty locker room minutes before tip-off. “Pray” boasts a soulful chorus of a mission statement delivered by Waddee and features a rare gust appearance from Proph1/Dav Noble of Frontlynaz association. “Pressure” isn’t too bad either, although it’s hard to hear the flow amidst the modern beat that never bothers to breathe for much of a chorus.
“Real Big” suffers as one of the last dips into the commercial sound and is forgettable, at best. Throughout the project there’s some rotten punchlines, but this track is a breeding ground for them. There’s the simple and potentially insulting (“I’m in a foreign land but I’m working hard bro / Mexican”) and some laugh out loud punchlines that I don’t think were meant to be (“No need to be vulgar / So I’ma tell em they can’t intercourse with me”). Concert-ready “Crazy” is the song you might go…well, crazy at during a live show but that you’ll soon get tired off by the time the beat drops once you listen to it out of context. The chorus is laborious too, which makes me wonder if it’s ever okay to drop a punchline during a quality chorus. High Society’s J.R. drops in for a hot minute on “Alive,” to generic results, hampered by a vibe-killing bridge and some of the simplest bars on the album.
Fro W.U.N.D.A.S. hits some marks here on “Ultrasound” that his peers in the subgenre don’t always hit. First, a good grade for personality. I’m not talking Slim Shady or Roman status, I just get the impression that Fro is having fun while reading his rhymes off his iPhone, preaching with confidence his viewpoints and enjoying the music as much as he wants his listeners to. Second, the quality of mixing, mastering and production clarity is high, much higher than I would ever expect from an indie rapper I hadn’t heard of previously. Fro obviously has his sights on radio with many of these tracks and the sharpness of his recordings won’t hurt him if he ever makes it that high. Points for original content, memorable bars and genre-expanding sounds are pretty pedestrian. Musical innovation and more prudence on what rhymes to leave on the studio floor should be the focus next time around. Still, I’m not mad at the project. “Ultrasound” is a highly pop-centric record with enough consciousness, six times out of ten, to make sure there’s little to no guilt on the listener’s side.
Categorical Ratings Breakdown:
Beat Selection/Production: 3/5
Beat Selection/Production: 3/5