Death By Icon are Chicago based MC Vic and MC/producer Ant, and L.A. based producer Dook. “HassaH,” their first proper full-length, is based on the concept of balance. This theme extends from the palindrome of the album title to the beats and lyrics. It’s a nice slab of indie rap that tries to balance polish with sincerity, indie rap with club rap.
“HassaH” sounds good. The production is several steps above the average self-released rap album. DBI combine folk, EDM, indie pop, and R&B with club rap. One song might have an acoustic guitar, while another might feature hissing hi-hats and snapping snares.
Things start off slow and sleepy. “Say Some” starts of with Ant freestyling for almost a minute before anything resembling a beat kicks in. When it does, it is a bombastic wash of synths with Pia Easley singing the hook. Based on that, I assumed I was in for some Chance the Rapper type weirdness, but things take a 180 turn on the second track, “Sunderday,” which is built around booming drums.
“Dafoe” is a mid-tempo track grounded in icy synths, while “Gusto” is pure club rap, with Vic and Ant spitting rapid-fire verses imaging where they’ll be in 10 years:
“We toured the globe ’round twenty times
Four albums out and went diamond
And still grinding
Till Vic get bored
Then start to paint
Doing art exhibits on his island
While Dookie chill
A couple joints off Blueprint 12
Revive careers like Blu Cantrell’s”
Occasionally the juxtaposition of indie elements with club elements is jarring. In general, I liked the more indie-oriented songs like “Namesake” more than the club-oriented tracks like “Trsssnme.” They were more unique sounding, and more emotionally complex. “Trsssnme” sounds like a million other songs on the radio, although its interesting to here that style of song without the lyrics about partying and material goods.
Lyrically, Vic and Ant rap about keeping it positive, girlfriend drama, the struggles of being an up-and-coming artist, and how they are about to blow up. They are both able rappers, often firing off rapid-fire rhymes full of intricate wordplay. Their lyrics are admirable for not falling into the familiar rap cliches, but there also wasn’t a lot that stood out to me. I listened to this album about fifteen times, and there weren’t that many lines that really stuck out.
“HassaH” doesn’t always succeed in balancing its disparate influences and styles, but it succeeds more often than not. Death By Icon have an interesting sound, and even if they didn’t always deliver on their promise, they’ve made an album worth checking out.