Angelo Mota, “Crystal Avenue” Review

(This piece was originally published through TeamBackPack.net.  It is republished here in it’s original form. TeamBackPack, the Truest Platform.)

Is there a single art scene in the world more crowded with quality content than the underground hip-hop community in New York City and the surrounding territories?  Probably not, but that hasn’t stopped a younger generation of top tier rapping purists and genuine artists working out of the five boroughs and surrounding areas from stepping into the ring and offering their contribution to hip-hop music and culture.  Angelo Mota is such a voice, and on Crystal Avenue, Mota proves that he has something to say and a unique talent for speaking in a tone that transcends the saturated New New York Sound.  

Listen to Crystal Avenue cover to cover if you haven’t already, and see what Angela Mota has to contribute to Underground Hip-hop

I’ll clear the air and admit from the jump that Crystal Avenue doesn’t sound much like most underground hip-hop mixtapes.  For one, the production is crisp and clear, mostly influenced or directly created by Mota’s own developing hand behind the boards.  And you can’t miss the wider concepts and narrative themes that make this 2015 release sound more like a full album than a typical tape.  But it’s this kind of atypical and hard to characterize approach to music that has made dozens of projects in the past months, from Acid Rap to Civilia, sound more like fully delivered albums than throw away “mixtape material.”  “Almost famous” ish: if Moto is going to make it big, it will be as his own artist.  

From the first track “love my life,” it’s clear that Mota isn’t interested in handling the same old subject matter with the same old hip-hop tricks.  The tracks echoing chorus is at once highly self-aware and touchingly self effacing: “Man I love my fucking life / let’s be hopeful, let’s be high / let’s be ignorant and blind / let’s be children all the time.”  If the semi-sarcastic delivery didn’t cue you off, the sonically shaking “yeah right” following each happy hook should help you listen carefully.  Yes, the production feels bouncy and upbeat and Mota is rapping about all the reasons he “loves his life,” but it’s clear that there is a lot more nuance and darkness in that love than most people Mota’s age usually confront; “loving you is complicated.”  

Angelo Mota knows how to write songs that carry universal themes but sound unique.  See: “I Love You.”

As the project’s themes develop, Mota’s self deprecating and tragically self-aware relationship to his own art and life are put front and center again and again.  Standout single “I Love You” sounds a lot more like a break-up song than the straight-forward “young rapper, young love” track that you might expect from that cliche’d title.  “Another night not alone” is a great example of Mota’s more obviously depressed and depressing song writing, but even as the New Jersey MC croons “I just miss you, I can’t help it,” the track’s production and melody sound like something Chance or Gambino would turn into a bright and uplifting neo-soul genre bender.  

But despite the lure of potential widespread commercial viability, and an obvious ability to write original songs on any subject and in any tone, Mota consistently resists the temptation to tell a happy story that isn’t his.  For every song on Crystal Avenue written in a major key or sporting organic and “upbeat” production, there’s a dozen references to drug abuse and self hate.  For every braggadocios line channeled straight from the young male ego, there are twenty doubting reflections on life, love, darkness, light, and all of the kinds of themes that you don’t hear young voices reflecting on deeply often enough.  

You don’t have to believe that Angela Mota is one of the best Underground Hip-hop voices coming out of New Jersey.  But after listening to Crystal Avenue, there’s an argument to be made.  

something's wrong

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

Yes, Mota has a young voice.  Yes, his music is deliciously dark and deep without being overbearing, and communicates something instantly relatable in Mota’s eloquent handling of the scariest elements of an adult artist’s lifestyle.  Yes, his songwriting is at once musically complex and entirely accessible, but none of that provides the “it” factor that makes Crystal Avenue a success.

Angelo Mota’s music is undeniably good because it is undeniably his own.  That’s underground hip-hop done right: unique art with unique heart.

Mota knows he has a unique and talented voice, and isn’t afraid to defend it.  What’s more NYC hip-hop than that?

Looking deeper at “Crystal Avenue,” the thumping and ambient title track for the project, it’s clear that Mota’s work is about a lot more than cloud inspired hooks and accessible beats.  Here’s a look at some of my favorite lyrics:

Reincarnation of Jimmy, Fuck with me /

Tread past just like gum on his shoe /

Get stuck quickly, turna  dollar and a dream /

To a guap and a buck fifty

snowmen

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

Look, I get that every rapper worth his salt can rap about how dope they are and how much bread they stack.  But someone told me recently: hip-hop ain’t told in novels, it’s told in songs.  Subject matter only takes you so far.  Everyone can talk about their swag and their cash, but Mota proves, again, that tired themes can always feel fresh with the right use of the write words.

This my affidavit, I tried to read up on some Plato /

Tried to master phrasing /

And it don’t take a fucking party song to master statements /

I wrote it by the track between the grass and the pavement

Yup.  There are a lot of layers here.  From some nice wordplay (track like a song, track like a football field at the high school you lost your virginity at,) to some unique references (not many rappers talk about Plato these days,) to a look at his own art (you already mastered phrasing, Angelo,) to some nice statements and some nuanced storytelling, this short pack of bars has it all.

i'm not done

A post shared by angelo mota (@motaraps) on

And that’s Crystal Avenue in a nutshell; this project kind of has it all, like actually.  (Top tierhip-hop visuals too.)

The features are few, but strategic (shout out to Siimba always).  The details are all there, from some interesting and forward thinking mixing that highlights Mota’s duality with top tier sonic curation to the well composed and loose narrative outlined through Crystal Avenue’s series of very brief skits.  The big picture components are all polished, from Mota’s unique and complex flow to the project’s consistently dope bars and rhyme schemes, to the young MC’s incredibly developed artistic voice.  The songwriting is lush, the hooks are appropriate if not always simple enough to get stuck in your head.  I should stop the fanboying before developing a full blown Mota Standom, because ultimately, no art is perfect.  

But if you are looking for a perfect introduction to underground hip-hop from New Jersey, Angelo Mota gives listeners just that with a unique voice on 2015’s Crystal Avenue, this week’s Mixtape Monday showcase.  

 

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