Grounded by candid and angst-filled lyrics, distorted guitars and a moody raw sound, grunge was the antithesis of the over-the-top theatrical hair metal and the overly polished progressive rock that preceded it. It was real, it was relatable and it was led by such bands as Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and in particular Nirvana. It was the relatable nature of the music and the musicians themselves, who looked like regular people rather than unreachable rock stars, that attracted many to grunge.
In the ever-evolving world of music, hip-hop has stood the test of time and come a long way from its humble roots in the South Bronx. Most recently, the combined genre of hip-hop/R&B surpassed rock as the dominant style of music in the U.S.
It’s hard to quantify the effects of hip-hop on pop culture, but none of it has happened without the genre undergoing major stylistic changes during that time span. Characterized by the use of melodic elements on choruses, raw lyrics, and dark themes directly contrasting with high-energy vocals and gritty guitars, Grunge Hop has seeped its way into the fold.
One of the individuals currently spearheading this underground counter-movement is San Diego’s Black Hesher, whose album “Portals” has recently been nominated for “Best Rap Album” in the San Diego Music Awards 2020. Black Hesher brings an undeniably infectious energy to the record which deals with life’s darker experiences.
It’s a record that really serves as a very good example of modern hip-hop without any mumble, any stupid flex and empty emo motifs. Musically, I was very surprised to hear this album for the first time. We hear a heavier and more aggressive sound, which is supported by the same aggressive vocals and rapping.
From the moment “Portals” opens with the bone-crushing Beastie Boys-styled “Serves You Right” ft. John Risdon, it brings an excellent mix of darkness, self-awareness, and dope production. On delivering the second track, “Fun While It Lasted”, Black Hesher succeeds in sending a one-two punch that leaves you breathless.
And if you thought the rapper had reached his apex think again, because “This Bottle of Pills” (Wonderland Remix) hits even harder with a fully fleshed out soundscape, horns and all, driving its underbelly.
The ethereal mellifluous tones of “Clouds” lighten up the atmosphere, although Black Hesher still drives urgently edgy verses on the track. “Alice” ft. Big M.I.C. keeps the momentum of bounce going with banging drums underlying the warm keys. All of which brings us to the dark and moody guitar-driven “Sleepless”.
Black Hesher mostly uses a dexterous, full-voiced blurt that he twists effortlessly through his flows without so much as a lost breath, barreling through beats like a road scraper. He is excellent on the rock-inflected ballad, “When You Left”, which is delivered with heartfelt passion.
Black Hesher is often a deft lyricist, with a knack for clever internal rhyme schemes, but it’s his evocative and empathetic vocal flows which impact the most. The artist drives his voice at a visceral level, trying to describe life’s downward spirals in all its viciousness. “Never Never Land”, with its reference to the Chris Cornell suicide, is a prime example of this.
One thing’s clear, though: Whatever Black Hesher says across these nineteen songs, he really means it. All of it. As you continue down the track list, you’ll realize that Black Hesher is on a roller-coaster going straight into limbo, and he’s taking us with him.
From standouts like “Flamingo” and “Hot Fuzz” ft. Diastro and ILLtemper, to “Shotgun Weddings” ft. Katie Iadubz and “Run Away” (Rainy Day Remix), it is clear that Black Hesher is not running out of steam anytime soon. Without mentioning the final two tracks, “Storm Breaks” and “Endless”, which are both stunning in their tone and execution.
Though the themes in “Portals” may appear as disconsolate, Black Hesher lyrics do show a degree of luminescence. This is a comprehensive and multifaceted album that captures the various sides of not only Black Hesher’s artistry but also of the human psyche and the demons that pull us down.
It’s hard to predict where he will go next, but we can say for a fact Black Hesher is confident and self-assured and there’s no stopping him from here on.