“Praise be those who ran before me/ That’s real blood on the scoresheet/ Real labor/ Shout they names,” raps ELUCID on “Safehouse, the opening track to the debut album from the duo Small Bills, in which the Brooklyn-based MC teams up with Michigan producer The Lasso. Rhyming over an evocatively dank and bluesy slab of humming funk, ELUCID’s words glance to the past—but the lyrical tenor of Don’t Play It Straight soon becomes about pushing through paradigms and fostering healthier visions for the immediate future.
As the 14-track project progresses, The Lasso’s production gracefully shifts from a brooding opening cluster of tracks to a closing stretch of serene celestial bliss. Early cut “We Don’t Really Need Altars” is bedded by a singular purring bass tone that exudes palpable menace, while “Moses Was A Magician” is an abrasive electro-punk outing that coats the MC’s words in a crust of distortion. The smart recurring use of guest singers Fielded and KAYANA across numerous tracks helps assist the album’s subtle transformation into hopefulness, with the final run of songs carried by comforting synths and soft droplets of percussion. Closing with the slow-tempo shimmering soul of “Even Without You,” ELUCID delivers words that pine for change but remain justifiably cautious: “You feel discomfort and find a stage/ How strange/ Don’t waste my time/ The cracks in your shield are lengthening at a pace I can clock, but I don’t/ Soon to be rendered useless, and then what?”