88rising’s ‘Head In The Clouds’ is generic, harmless fun

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Grade: 2.5/5.0

Who knew 88rising had so many members?

Head In The Clouds, the media company’s debut compilation album, highlights established artists such as the Higher Brothers and Rich Brian while also introducing 88rising’s lesser-known acts. The project nails the carefree summer feel, and nostalgic sounds feature heavily. It’s a low-stakes, passably entertaining pop-rap album.

88rising delivers an inoffensively pleasant vibe with a few memorable moments. Head in the Clouds comprises a range of songs for different occasions. That variety can be attributed to the proliferation of “type beats” throughout. Consider the production on “Let It Go,” which mimics Pharrell Williams’ signature upbeat percussion. The similarities between that song and recent Pharrell works such as “Lemon” are uncanny. The Higher Brothers bring infectious enthusiasm, but the real star here is guest artist BlocBoy JB. Though “Let It Go” is much more uptempo than his usual fare, BlocBoy JB showcases both his surprising flexibility and his talents as a hitmaker. Despite its clear influences, the song does just enough to differentiate itself to avoid genericness.

Other tracks aren’t so lucky. “Red Rubies” is nominally an 88rising song featuring guest artist Yung Bans, but it sounds like quite the opposite. Bans lends his signature sound to the production, the hook and a solid verse. Consequently, there’s little room for others (namely, the members of 88rising) to shine. “Swimming Pool,” which features the recently incarcerated 03 Greedo, suffers from a similar problem, though not nearly to the same degree.

Of the newer talents who Head In The Clouds introduces, NIKI is a standout. Her voice, while not particularly distinctive, is chameleonic in its ability to match the energy of its backing instrumentals. On the opening track, “La Cienega,” she channels Pure Heroine-era Lorde as she describes the aftermath of a night of debauchery. Her quietly reflective croon does more for the track than either her co-star or the ending sample of a Japanese train station. Though the elegance of Japanese transit is a welcome addition to any artistic work, its use here simply doesn’t compare to more inventive examples from this year.

AUGUST 08, the other newcomer who is prominently featured on Head in the Clouds, seemingly has very little to bring. He collaborates with NIKI on two of the four songs he contributes to the project. On both of these, he is handily outshined. Of the other two, “Disrespectin” is decidedly the worse performance. He delivers the hook, which is boastful gibberish about his jewelry. The rhyme scheme here is totally unintelligible: AUGUST 08, confoundingly, pairs “disrespectin’” with “veterans” and “extras” with “mattress.” “Disrespectin” could have been a highlight of Head in the Clouds, as Rich Brian and the Higher Brothers turn out career-high performances over one of the album’s most interesting beats. Unfortunately, AUGUST 08 renders the song unlistenable.

Rich Brian completes his metamorphosis from genuinely funny YouTuber to decent pop-rapper. “History,” in particular, is a pitch-perfect summer song. Brian’s melancholy voice complements the Nintendo nostalgia of the beat. And he goes bar for bar with Playboi Carti on “Beam.” The appearance of producer Southside’s tag on the album is a delightful surprise, and it points to Brian’s growing industry clout.

Head In The Clouds is a strong first effort for the 88rising cohort as it tries to carve out its niche. Verbal of the Teriyaki Boyz appears as a nod to the forebears of Asian hip-hop. The album represents a passing of the torch, as that genre evolves to meet mainstream tastes. Though Head In The Clouds is often generic, it’s all in harmless, seasonal fun. Just don’t think too hard about it.

Contact Seiji Sakiyama at [email protected].