In what has been somewhat of an uphill battle, mental health awareness in modern music is just beginning to become more widely accepted and appreciated. Chicago rapper Smba has long been a proponent of anti-bullying and mental health awareness campaigns, having recently raised a sizable amount for the Anti-Bullying Project in 2020 by curating a show with fashion designers and fellow musicians to raise awareness for the cause. Already an accomplished philanthropist and acclaimed lyricist at just 18- years-old, Claustrophobic EP takes their artistry a step further by offering a deeply personal look at the mind of the young artist during a manic episode.
The 19-minute EP, meant to be listened through in one sitting, is an ambitious project conveying a wide range of emotions. Detailing a battle with anxiety and negative thoughts, the project contains tracks that range from jumbled and jumpy, to calm and reassured. Beginning with the tense and frenzied "What If," Smba hits the ground running with a strikingly emotional run of anxious thoughts brilliantly delivered over stark and touching piano. Raw emotion seeps through the track and flows perfectly into the more slow and melancholic "Sun" that follows, a piece reminiscent of the early 2000s Chicago hip-hop scene.
A major strength of the project is its seamless trackflow that demands to be listened to without interruption almost as if it existed as a single 19 minute song. Another extremely strong and emotional high point of the EP, "I Know," is a tender and cinematically orchestral song of Smba bearing a piece of themself to the audience and really hits home as a scene of audio cinema that resolves many anxious thoughts from the first half of the EP. "Alone in my Room" is a raw and emotional tribute to Smba's late sister consisting of the naturally melodic voice of the artist over scratchy guitar strums and bluesy riffs. Penultimate track "New Day" is a fiery and slow-building stream of thoughts not unlike the opening track, but now we see a more focused and repentant version of the artist as he comes down into the final track. "Better Me" is the natural conclusion of the project, a sweeping anthem focused on coming to terms with shortcomings and rising up to become better as a result of them.
You'd be hard-pressed to find another teenage artist that can put together a more ambitious project than Smba has done with Claustrophobic. Thematic and richly realized, the Chicago artist's second EP is hands down his best work yet and deserves 19 minutes of your day to think and ruminate on the effects of anxiety and negativity on everyday life.