Detroit’s talent pool is so rich with talent in 2019 that it’s often the first city I think of when asked what I’m listening to. Mello Music Group know the area well, with Apollo Brown, Chris Orrick and Guilty Simpson all dropping records on the imprint, so it’s not surprising to see Nolan signed up for his latest release. 2017 saw “YEN”, Nolan’s breakthrough record, catch rap fans’ ears with its energetic approach to soulful hip hop.
Lead single “ORANGES” picks up where “YEN” left off, immediately highlighting Nolan’s playful nature whilst steering clear of the dreaded 90s revivalism:
I know Kendrick Lamar wasn’t the first, but there’s certainly been an increase in artists putting their tracklistings in upper case and “SPORTEE” is another example. Thankfully, I don’t use an iPod or Creative Zen (remember those?) these days so I’m not about to rename each track, yet the shouty nature of words in upper case lends itself well to Nolan’s style.
Tucked amongst the brash delivery are memorable lines like “I’m focused on staying focused” and “My momma taught me I could rule the world, my poppa never taught me shit”. It’s that insight and nods to iconic artists that gives “SPORTEE” its replay-value beyond being another selection of dope beats and passionate rapping. When Nolan states he’s “feeling like Eddie Murphy in ’87, RAW as f–k…” he isn’t wrong. Knowing he’s been studying the classics released years before he was even born without trying to recreate a style of hip hop from yesteryear demonstrates how seriously he takes his craft. Despite receiving acclaim for his rhymes, it’s often his production that shines brightest, sitting somewhere between Black Moon and Black Milk.
Nolan rarely deviates from speaking his clout but does rein it in towards the end of the album. Rare heartfelt sides are showcased on “THRAXXX” and “BLOOM” giving some depth to Nolan’s character. Granted, if you’re a ninja you’re going to be largely emotionless but it helps break up a 21-track record.
“SPORTEE” is most certainly one of the best hip hop records released so far this year, carefully straddling the line between smooth and rugged. Mello Music Group have struck gold once again.