Baton Rouge, Louisiana artist Wakai has shared a fresh new album called To a Dark Boy. With an eclectic ear for production and a penchant for vivid lyricism, he has been steadily making a name for himself as a new voice coming out of the south. Leading up to the project, collaborations with Mick Jenkins and Emmavie on solid singles "When There Was No Sun" and "Starter Jacket" showcased his evocative sound and built anticipation for a longer project. Now that the wait is over, Wakai has delivered an LP that expands upon those singles over a series of 12 heartfelt tracks soaked in jazzy ambiance.
The airy keys and uplifting woodwinds on opener "Survivors Guilt" conjure an image of a brisk morning, providing a breezy backdrop for Wakai's effortlessly smooth flows. Both sonically and topically, this track showcases a certain eye for detail that becomes apparent throughout the record, as it zones in on intriguing textures and images that contribute to the character-rich portraiture of To a Dark Boy. Next, the smoky, vaguely claustrophobic sonics of "Closed Shadows" provide the night to "Survivors Guilt"'s day, with a dark, hazy instrumental centred around nocturnal, deeply immersive keys. Drawing influence from classic southern hip-hop while remaining refreshing, this beat's ruminative atmosphere pairs naturally with Wakai's sharply introspective verses.
The bouncy "Send Off" switches up the pace swiftly with jubilant, bright keys and pillowy 808s, as he delivers playful vocals that find him attacking the track from a different angle, stringing together a series of engaging, energizing rhymes. The Emmavie-assisted "Starter Jacket"- a lead single from the LP, brings in a summery mood that uplifts with buttery keys and easygoing percussion. Warmly nostalgic in tone, this song's sublime production and charming vocals make it an album standout. Songs like "Silhouette" and the Noa Jamir and Nochvll-assisted "Evening Sun" make focused usage of soul samples, with elegant backing vocals layered atop glowing strings and guitars, bringing in a slightly different sound while still remaining cohesive within the project as a whole. To a Dark Boy closes out on a strong note with the rich "When There Was No Sun" featuring Mick Jenkins, which contains some of Wakai's most potent verses. This song finds him sharing a natural chemistry with Jenkins, as they trade confident, colorful verses effortlessly.
A vibrant, focused offering from Baton Rouge's Wakai, To a Dark Boy echoes the sound of classic southern hip-hop while simultaneously pushing it forward, providing a series of refreshing songs that are detail rich and vividly personal. Showing sonic range, the project's blend of hip-hop and alternative R&B keeps it diverse and makes it a dynamic listening experience. Exhibiting poignant songwriting and a keen ear for production, Wakai shows promise lyrically and sonically throughout this LP.