|Next album won't have my mug, I promise.|
And now that that insanely long notice is out the way, let's get into it. It'll be weird referring to myself as "he," but it's another way to remove biases. This is a track-for-track analysis of the album, so it will be a long read. Stay with me, dammit, 'cause you're...alllll I neeeeed.
("Actual" Order Playlist from Speed on the Beat)
2) 500 Days of Summer (Losing Faith in Self): A track that features what some have considered some of my dopest production (even though it chops up a "stock" sample). It's a track which fits well right after "Religious," since it still speaks on the same issues. However, where "Religious" shows some sort of positivism, "500" showcases a plethora of negative vibes. It features a man who's trying to be positive and "save" people becoming tired of the world and himself. The verses feature an increasing amount of negative energy and negative thoughts. By the end of the track, Speed ultimately says "eff this" to being positive and helpful to the world. It's at this point that Speed is going through a full-blown manic episode.
3) Come and Get It (Losing Sanity) featuring Dugee F. Buller: A track that's probably one of the most "volatile" Speed on the Beat tracks, since he speaks on, in an almost-braggadocios style, his past life (being homeless, having to rob, cheat, and steal to survive, actually having to use a blade on someone, etc.). On its surface, it's almost parodic in nature, since Speed typically doesn't talk about these things and here he is, seemingly out of the blue, talking about losing it. It's in this point that Speed is pretty much getting to the point of being too far gone. He's having a psychotic break, which is even more displayed by his usual smooth baritone voice getting increasingly more high-pitched and "unhinged." He's battling demons in his lyrics and battling himself, as seen through the strained vocals towards his second verse. By getting a guest spot from Dugee, Speed's also doing something he usually doesn't do: a non-DAR-centric guest spot. It's a breath of fresh air, since before this move, the trilogy has had True God being the only guest verse. It also serves well to showcase that this album is something...different.
4) The Mental Breakdown (Interlude): Honestly, this track is a tough listen. One, it's incredibly "unhinged," showcased by its horrorcore elements and "demonic" dubbing. Two, the Speed versus Speed interlude at the end drags. It's needed, since it's a legitimate "Man in the Mirror" moment. And, outside this album, this song takes place around the times he ended up in the hospital because of breakdowns. Plus, it sets up the reasoning behind the "Death of the King." However, it does drag, ultimately bringing the album down a peg. In its released order and the "actual" order, this is followed by "Cleanse."
5) Cleanse (Tormented Soul): A track where Speed expunges his "demons," or at least starts to. It's in this track Speed speaks on some of the things that've made him the way he is. He speaks on his relationship with his father and father's family, child molestation, being drugged and sexually assaulted by a woman in college, dealing with (and originally denying) being bipolar, his relationship with his mother, and more. The feels are heavy in this track, but not in a "woe is me" way. In this track, Speed sounds muted as hell. The unhinged nature of Speed is replaced by a more subdued individual talking about life. I really like the reference to "Come and Get It" in the third verse.
6) Dreaming (The Breakthrough): Since this album is, practically, Speed's therapy sessions put to music, it's only fitting that he'd continue the story in "Cleanse" on "Dreaming." The backmasked piano fits this track. It's dark, but somehow weirdly optimistic. A few words in this track are "no-fied" to hell. The almost drug-influenced-like singing on the chorus showcases Speed's ability to buck trends. I mean, the guy speaks about drug abuse and the like, but not even in a tongue-in-cheek or bragging way. No wonder Spotify keeps saying Speed and Danny Brown are "related artists."
7) Do Better (DAR Remix): The DAR remix of Speed's "Do Better" kind of feels unneeded, but fits since it features Speed less "unhinged" and less "lost." He sounds a lot more clear-headed here. It's one of the better Speed and True collabos. It's less "no-fi," more focused, and shows both artists as matured since their last collabos and albums (at the time, Songs For... for Speed and Soul Revival II and Three7One for True). Plus, the guy managed to throw in quite a few wrestling references and even got a Daniel Bryan-like "YES!" chant going at the end. It's a triumphant song.
8) Death of the King: Speed's requisite double-time track (I mean, he is known as Speed on the Beat, after all). It's a fast track, and the lo-fi doesn't do it as much justice as it deserves. But, it's still a great track. The beat sounds more "mainstream" than a lot of Speed beats (a good and "meh" thing, to be honest). It also sounds more triumphant. The man has finally found his groove and himself, by killing the "King" (both the "no-fi" King and the man who he was before this album). I like the first and last verses. The second, while "quotable," isn't as memorable.
9) Money Where Yo' Mouth Is: There's not much about this track that hasn't already been said on RapGenius. It's a dope track, it calls for action instead of reaction, and shows more of that "positive revolutionary" Speed on the Beat who was missing in the earlier parts of this album,
10) Thanatos (Stories through Music): I wish that Speed would've used the version that sampled "Thanatos" the track from the NGE soundtrack, for this one. Yeah, he later released the "Shinji Mix" bootleg of the track, but I feel that putting the "Shinji" version on the album would've been stronger.
The piano and orchestra samples were more gut-wrenching and twistedly inspiration, especially considering the scene it was used in during Neon Genesis Evangelion. Plus, the guy is kind of an "anime-referencing artist," considering he's working on an Eureka 7-inspired EP and his final album supposedly features Gurren Lagann references aplenty. It would've fit better. The version we have on the album is serviceable, though. It, in some ways, surpasses the "Shinji" mix, since it's a bit less "no-fi." Lyrically, it features some of Speed's best lines and acts as both a summary of the album and a presentation of new ideas (ascension from foolishness, killing old parts of oneself to create a better tomorrow, references to Speed's older personas such as J dot Speed, death as a state of mind versus "actual death," when one is forgotten, creating a better tomorrow for his children, etc.)
11) Keep Integrity, Never Guises (Thanatos' Reprise): The reprise of "Thanatos" features Speed just showing off lyrically. Here is a man who is on the "right" path and doesn't look like he's going back. He's got a clearer head, he sounds less willing to be the "No-Fi King" and more willing to actually reach his full potential outside of that. The shedding of "no-fi" leaves Speed at an interesting crossroads. Does he just become another artist or does he become even better and more "respected" because of it? Will his storytelling and the like be hindered by utilizing less of that aesthetic?
12) Redemption's Reprise: We get our answer to the previous question in this track, the intro on the released version (but the outro on the chronological order). He seems less willing to hide from his mistakes and transgressions or his "illness," opting to accept all of that as a part of who he is. This "requiem to old SOTB" features some of the more outlandish Speed "brags," but features some of the most-solid bars we've heard from him. The "Dreams and Nightmares"-esque production is both haunting and beautiful, since it shows a man who isn't going down easy, nor accepts being known just as the "No-Fi King."
13) My Nose Clean: Now this is a track only on the Bandcamp version of the album.
However, it continues the idea that Speed is more "complete" and willing to be himself. It's a celebratory track (celebratory of the reunion of Team DAR and celebratory of Speed's newfound self-acceptance). He's a (kind of) nerdy short guy, he's a wrestling fan, he's a rapper, he's a philosopher, he's a visionary, he's a father, he's...Speed on the Beat.
Closing thoughts: The album is probably Speed's best work, both sonically and musically. Could it have been better had he opted to completely "kill" the no-fi/lo-fi aesthetic? Some may say yes, but I feel that the "no/lo-fi" was needed to bring the trilogy of albums he's done (One Year Later, Songs For..., and this one) to a close. Is it a classic album? Only time will tell that. It may be discarded next year, for all we know. But the themes presented (mental illness, perseverance, epic manliness subverted by real emotions, revolting against "the system," etc.) are pretty timeless and can be related to pretty easily. I wish that Speed would've opted to continue to rap during "The Mental Breakdown," but the skit wasn't all that bad (just a tad too long).
All in all, it's a great album, if one can get past the "oh, it's lo-fi" mindset and should make listeners curious to see where the former "No-Fi King" goes when he comes From Juke Joints to Greatness.