In the Internet Age, independent artists are, unsurprisingly, gaining traction and at times going head-to-head with more traditional routes of music publishing. Most recently, Chance the Rapper exemplifies the dichotomy between label and indie, maintaining his approach to free music over the course of his 5 year career. Now, with avenues like SoundCloud and Bandcamp, the independent artist has access to a seemingly limitless audience defined only by their activity in promoting their music.
Hailing from Tampa, Florida by way of Maryland, Alex Burnett is one such independent rapper, who released his debut album, Interpratate on SoundCloud. Spanning 13 tracks, Alex Burnett presents a thoughtful body of work, incorporating themes of his passion for and belief in the meaning of Hip-Hop, his spirituality and general introspection about his existence.
From the jump, one of the album’s lowest points has nothing to do with its content. Rather, Alex does himself a slight disservice using only his name. In the age of parody rappers (if you can call them that) like 22 Savage and his successors, Alex does nothing to differentiate his rap persona to the masses. It’s something of a catch-22; Using his name adds to the power of his music by presenting himself as a mere man in the face of the colossus that is Hip-Hop, while simultaneously limiting his audience through his choice of moniker. Some of this is diverted though his album title, which isn’t a word by Webster’s standards, but a more unique name choice could only help Alex’s career growth.
Naming conventions aside, Alex uses Interpratate as an incredibly cohesive project, using production that could be classified as almost neo-noir given its roots in jazz and somewhat brooding composition. The dramatic presentation of tracks like “Lies” (prod. Sam Joocy) or “Healing” (prod. Taylor King) is never forced, particularly considering the implementation of layered vocals throughout the project.
The opening track, “Budding Flower” (prod. Johnny Crooks) heavily features backing vocals, resembling the stream of consciousness that flows throughout the album. “Drown in a Pool of fire, who’s the liar?, A rose rose, when the seed’s planted, Don’t expect the rose when the roots are dying,” are just some of the recurring lines behind the main verses, highlighting both Alex’s perceptions of Hip-Hop as both a garden of growth and a graveyard of decay, as well as his personal spirituality and efforts to find his own path. Using the left and right audio channels, Alex structures the conflict he faces both as an artist and a human.
Continuing into “Aspirations” (prod. MjNicholas), the track leads off with a Denzel Washington quote that again addresses Alex’s roots in his faith without assuming a blatantly proselytizing tone. Dealings with metaphysical topics throughout Interpratate, the imagery of the ethereal presented in his musings of poltergeists and the devil, are counterbalanced by quotes speaking directly to the listener.
The personal tone is largely what makes Interpratate a welcomed album to revisit. Alex strays away from creating a realm that forces the listener to adhere to his worldview. Rather, he presents ideas and problems that are largely relatable; fraud and exploitation, along with the aforementioned spirituality among others are posed to himself, prompting self-reflection on the listeners part. Unlike some projects, Interpratate never really leads the audience to a conclusion on what to believe. “Influence” (prod. Madbliss) ends with the sentiment “Let the substance give you something, and if it don’t just refrain, Can your highs help your lies rise before you die?” giving listeners the chance to question their own substance abuse, narcotics or otherwise, and come to their own conclusions.