In rap music it’s really just a hop, skip and a jump from conumdrum to commodity. It wasn’t that long ago that the Odd Future kids were a highly mysterious entity, and look at ’em now, singing for Jay-Z and Kanye West, rapping with The Game and Pusha T, performing with The Roots and releasing old fashioned CD’s. That is to say that if you rap and are still a mystery to most, it’s probably because you’re still undiscovered. Rapping is explaing yourself, and the more of it you do, the less mysterious you become – provided someone out there is listening. But it’s also fair to note that some famous and long-serving rappers remain to a certain extent inscrutable. Unlikely candidates for philosphical ponderings, Three 6 Mafia maybe summed the latter fact up best with the title of their 2005 album, “Most Known Unkown.”

Whether a rapper manages to be known and unknown at the same time is not only down to personality, it’s also a direct effect of the music he or she makes. A DOOM will inevitably be more elusive and enigmatic than a 50 Cent. That being said, I’m not a hundred percent sure that Terrence F refers to himself with the title of his free 2011 release. But “Enigma” packs enough features to make me wonder just in general. The SoCal representative has Bandcamp accounts under the monikers Terrence F and T Franklin. In the interest of proper branding, why not settle for Terrence Franklin?

By his own admission Terrence F is still “Becoming,” as the title of the opening track suggests. He claims a “style so clean” “it’s like it’s unborn / and cold like it’s unwarm.” Guided by word association, the rhymes veer between elaborate and simplistic. What he’s essentially trying to get across is often clouded by unclear rhetoric:

“Let me slow it down a little
so you can sound this riddle
out; niggas is brittle
fruity like a Skittle
watchin’ Malcolm in the Middle
A black rose, renegade, revolutionary nigga like I’m Malcolm Little”

To his credit the track he jacked from fellow Bandcamper ahams and his relaxed delivery and warm voice are a near perfect match. What doesn’t fit into the equation are lyrics that in conjunction with the lackadaisical flow are simply not up to boasts like “The flow is made of the same dope Charlie Sheen take / bitch niggas beam hate more than the one-time.”

Undeniable is Terrence F’s ear for classy backdrops. “Downtown Again” is a breezy DJ Bamboozle production over which he looks wistfully back on times past, and while I don’t subscribe to the nostalgia, I respect where he’s coming from:

“Mama bought me the Backstage soundtrack
Bred in the nineties, I’m tryina bring that sound back
The new kids scared to be original and niggas like Drake get they sound jacked
Before a dude put Jimmy in a wheelchair
niggas had it locked, they gone, some of ’em still here
You had OG Nas, Jigga
But I don’t really know about the rest of these niggas
New cats don’t know nothin’ ’bout the essence
Dilla Dog gone, I can still feel his presence
in the room when the beat bang
And I can still hear Dre say, ‘It’s a G Thang’
What happened to the love and the passion niggas had?
Back in the day we gave a fuck about a nigga’s swag
Dope beats, dope rhymes all a nigga had
But now it’s all about the money, man, this shit is sad”

It’s always nice to see when musicians don’t forget their first love. Remembering two innovators at the same time, Terrence F not only tips his hat to J Dilla but also DJ Screw on “What Love Is (Chopped & Screwed).” Unfortunately he includes a phone message in the same fashion, which is only the first out of three instances where voice-mail tries my patience on “Enigma.” The artificial deceleration makes a return on “Deficiency (Slowed Down),” where a grave diagnosis by a doctor turns out to be just a nightmare. The rapper generally struggles for songwriting relevance, exiting the relationship piece “Cabana Sunset” halfway through, stating the obvious on “Past Due,” or confusing the listener by playing different characters on “Heart on Fire.”

There are also a couple of instrumental pieces on which Terrence F does little more than play back the originals by Maze or the Ohio Players. Alternatively, he raps over R&B instrumentals from Mary J. Blige and Chrisette Michele. Two songs, both self-produced, hold up to scrutiny. “Bill Maher” deals critically (but respectfully) with organized religion and “Terrence’s Lament” starts with a rather depressing personal account (“What about my father? / The only time he call is when he need a ride somewhere or a couple dollars / But what about ‘Hey son, how’s your life goin’?’ / Feel it fallin’ apart, think I need some life-sewin'”) but finds an optimistic conclusion with an extended Obama quote. Despite the ambiguity, “Terrence’s Lament” has a sense of direction that “Enigma” as a whole lacks.

Terrence F :: Enigma