Bay Area emcee Hugo Monster has been dropping albums since 2006. His first release since 2019’s “Klir”, his 2023 album “Trial and Error” has been self-desribed as something of a turning point for him. The creative process was the most enjoyable aspect as it reunited him with a close compatriot who’s also a hip-hop artist. His partner-in-music, Paavo, produced the album in its entirety. Comprised of ten straight tracks, one would assume that it was Amateur Night considering the title of the album. As though to say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The same adage can be applied to any artist who’s consistent in both their creativity and their output, including Hugo Monster. So, with “Trial and Error”, does Hugo pass or fail this time?
Throughout the album, Paavo’s production is, for the most part, of the boom-bap persuasion. “Viral” starts the album off and the very boom-bap approach reminds me of Nas’s “Halftime” if the beat was just the bass and drums. Hugo rides the beat with ease and has clever lines such as “It’s deceivin’ / like White boys yelling ‘FREEDOM!’” For “Push”, Hugo mentioned it being his favorite song on the album due to the fun he had in the recording process. It’s a motivation track about finding inspiration from seemingly anywhere, including yourself. This notion is repeated with the line “Tell me…what makes you tick.” The album’s sole single is “Halfway Woke” which contains a playful bounce to the beat and an interpolation of the hook to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones, Pt. II”. Hugo raps about those who sleepwalk through life and make a half-ass effort with most things:
“Ill Intentions” is marked by its stand-out snares and hi-hats in the beat. Here, Hugo spits about overcoming fear and attacking your negative thoughts with, as the song title indicates, ill intentions. Hugo challenges the listener with the rhyme “I’m just here sharpening the sword / If you ain’t here to draw, then what the Hell you here for?” On “Anybody Out There?”, the beat is less boom-bap. It’s more layered, almost Caribbean-sounding. The lyrical topic is anger, what causes Hugo’s, and what he needs to do to release it. With a feature from midwestern emcee Illogic, the motifs of being an individual shine through with lines like “They can say what they want, but more is expected from you…” and “I exist outside the box you try to keep me in.” The album takes a melancholic detour on “Lessons”, whose piano keys and guitar riffs make up this wistful autobiographical track. Hugo raps about the realization that adolescent events led to harsh lessons to be learned, whether back then or much later in adulthood.
Arriving at the final tracks sees Hugo at his most braggadocious. On “Point Blank”, he laces internal rhymes schemes for targeting unseen opponents, particularly the fake humble. On “Nothing More”, it’s the production’s bassline which sticks out the most, nothing more. “No Looking Back” has a jazz/R&B sample building the beat and is all about not selling out, capitalized by Hugo’s line “don’t sacrifice flavor just please egos.” Finally, the closer, “The Tongue” is filled with braggadocious rhymes such as “how my body of work bodies your work.” Of all the ‘90s style beats on here, Paavo saves his most gloomy boom-bap, his basement music, for the final track.
There is a certain tongue-in-cheek aspect to “Trail and Error,” As stated earlier, the title implies that Hugo and Paavo are merely at the start of their careers, like they’re throwing anything against a wall and seeing what sticks. But that’s simply not the case here. Every album is a learning experience and though some tracks on here keep the album from gaining a perfect score, “Trial and Error” doesn’t fall by much.