Dark, moody, depressing, and atmospheric are adjectives not typically associated with rap music, yet it’s these qualities that make Chrome Lips – the collaborative effort between rapper Haleek Maul and electronic duo Supreme Cuts – a very good mixtape. Yes, these are two young artists who at times show their collective immaturity, but the album is still unique and thought provoking as a whole.
After the brief intro “Ulrik,” the album truly begins with the fantastic track “The Dummy.” On this song, Maul sets the tone of the record when he declares, “I see no God / guess that I’m alone.” The production adds to this dark and heavy tone with some spooky synthesizers and a simple, bass-heavy beat. However, the track’s extremely catchy hook also proves that, while Chrome Lips is certainly an original album, it’s also surprisingly accessible. The title track continues this accessibility with a very interesting hook made from some deep, distorted vocals that appear frequently throughout the tape. Maul also uses the song as the chance to display his technical ability, something he doesn’t do on many other songs.
The album continues with “Gully,” which has a repetitive and somewhat annoying chorus, but Maul’s verses more than make up for it. The song finds him examining the emptiness of his life, and equating this to his shallow promiscuity. The somber themes of sex, drugs, and loneliness continue throughout the album. Maul is not afraid to hold back on bragging and misogyny, but that doesn’t mean that he actually means any of it. Instead, he comes off more like Danny Brown and other emcees who choose to bury their substance under faux arrogance.
Despite the strong outing from Maul, Supreme Cuts really steal the show with their production. On “M00N” they create a fantastic atmosphere with an almost chillwave-like chorus and hollow-sounding percussion that really gives a lot of depth to one of Maul’s most passionate verses. They also completely save “Roll With Me” with what sounds like the darkest production Clams Casino has ever done. Despite Wiseblood’s out-of-place guest verse, the swelling synths, light keys, and the haunting and airy sampled vocals create a song that is great overall. Supreme Cuts are even able to add to the lyrical themes of the album by creating an interestingly uncomfortable experience on “Yurple Von Sherm.” The high-pitched and distorted vocals create a tripped-out feeling, much like The Weeknd did on songs like “Initiation.” This gives extra weight to lyrics about the dark side of drugs and really brings the experience to life.
Unfortunately, not every song has deep lyrics or fantastic production, and the result is a few tracks in the middle of the album that detract from the product as a whole. “Smoke Tires (The Burnout)” does have a solid verse, but the production lacks depth and the initial two minutes of R&B crooning just don’t add anything to the song. “Nitemare Ku$h” is another misstep. Both guests do little to impress, the auto-tuned hook is far too saccharine, and the lyrics are shallow and, at times, cringe-worthy. There are also several songs under two minutes in length that are either underdeveloped (“Ball”) or little more than filler (“Come With Me,” “Exe”).
Luckily, the album finishes strongly with an awesome one-two punch that seemingly creates two alternate endings to the album. “Hoverboard” features a beat that uses cloudy electronics and soft keyboards to create a feeling of contentedness. Maul also paints a picture where his life is free of drugs and he has “kids and a Honda Civ.” Ultimately, it becomes the only truly happy song on the record. The next track, “Jupiter,” creates a polar opposite feeling, with the hardest beat on the record and Maul fantasizing about suicide. This contrast creates something very interesting and the two songs are the brightest moment on the tape. The album closes with “N.G.E.” and while it’s short and sparse, it really sums everything up – it’s not perfect but it works. Because in the end, Chrome Lips has plenty of problems, but it’s still an extremely satisfying experience.