Bar Exam: Xay Hill – Broken Nightmares (First Listen Album Review)
I got the chance to speak to Xay Hill earlier this year. It was an honor to encounter such a nice and talented person. He’s been working on his craft and shelling out music like none other, so I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard a track with him on it yet. I’m stoked to review his new album Broken Nightmares today. My first look at this album art – it’s got an ominous tone to it. A pile of skulls and Xay inside of a picture frame with a stormy backdrop lean heavily towards this Halloween season. I wonder if this music will follow the theme set here? Let’s go.
For those of you unfamiliar with my bar exams, I am sharing all of my notes from my true first listen to the project. I provide in-depth thoughts and commentary on anything from flows, rhymes, beats, creative direction, track placement, and concepts.
Bedtime Intro – “Now I lay me down to sleep” is recited after Xay enacts putting his kid to bed, and telling his wife he’s going to bed. A deep voice then hurls ideas of failure and doubt at him. Interesting intro.
BigBoiDreams – Subdued piano laying chords under the quintessential Xay Hill vocal. “I remember back in school handing out the mixtapes.” He’s telling his story of how he’s grown and how when he’s experiencing change, God doesn’t. It’s a chill track, but this is the most crisp mix I’ve heard for a Xay Hill song.
Mess With Us (Freestyle) – These tracks definitely fit that dark undertone that I felt with the artwork. He’s confident here, in the bars and the performance. I really dig his ability to weave a melody, but change up his tone in spots. This track is a captivating listen.
Abandoned – Big bass here, a lot of layers to the instrumental too. Xay laid in some ad-libs for the backdrop on this one, and it adds to the overall structure of the track.
David’s Song – Easy melody here. It’s introspective. Not as much energy as we’ve heard up to this point so it’s a good change of pace. He’s crafted a simple song here, that shows heart and his intention to show his worth.
“Coming from rags to riches/Bought me a bag to get it/Ain’t had a debt to get it/Walk is different/
They say the talk is different/and I wanna ball forever/they say I’m trippin/But I feel I’m on a mission”
Streets Of Gold – I like the piano loop at the top and how the beat drops. As usual, Xay is vulnerable about facing pain and obstacles in life. I liked the RAW-B feature here. It was a tight verse and broke up the texture of a song that really evolved and changed as it played on.
Nightmares – Again it’s the ad-libs in the background that I’m drawn to. He’s on that spiritual warfare tip. Scootie Wop enhances the track as well. This is the most complete and solid track on the album. I really like how the two artists truly collaborated and were in lock step with each other when it came to their melodies and concepts.
Fear Nobody (interlude) – This is here in order to make a smoother transition into the next track.
Ready For War – Laid back melodies over a building beat, Jekasole, and Xay Hill are sharing about own battles. Also bringing out a challenge to the listener to prepare to fight as well. It’s a laid back yet intense track because it’s all about rising against the pressure and chaos of life.
Rollie On My Wrist – Acoustic guitars plucking over a trap beat.
“Dark skinned boy with a light skinned glow/Pain in my eyes but it’s joy in my soul/
Momma said I’m different so I had to let it show/
One day I be so high I pray to God he’ll bring me low/”
He’s talking about working hard on his grind and the people around him elevating with him. He wants God to see his heart in his artwork, and as he glorifies God he knows it’ll be worth it.
Dreams – He’s a pro at writing melodies and catchy hooks. Wow, about two minutes into this one he digs in a little differently emotionally. I was just about to write about how I’m losing energy and it’s bold for him to drop a 14 track album. But, maybe with this track, he’s showing he’s got another gear.
Defeated – Another interlude. More of the deep voice from the intro track. Xay is speaking against this voice, preaching scripture, as the music bed grows with violins. He finished by calling out to Jesus.
I Need You Jesus – Hopeful piano riff to start this one, with a preacher sound byte over the top. “I ain’t afraid to say I love you.” There are multiple vocals layered on top of each other. We’ve pivoted away from the darkness, the angst, the doubt, and here there’s hope. This is a dope move because a lot of artists would have just stayed in the darkness, but this is Xay showing what he’s all about.
Worthy – Intricate electric guitar lines lay on top of a muffled bed. The textures adapt and shift as the song goes. Xay is switching octaves in his vocal as the performance moves on. I’m digging it. “I’ve been through too much to prove that I’m worthy.”
The concept of this album is dope. The idea of “Broken Nightmares” makes sense when you realize this album plays like a movie. He was really good at staying within the confines of the darkness, the chaos of life for a lion share of the project, but then those nightmares break when he gives himself to Jesus. With that being said, it’s sometimes hard to stay with an album for that long. The payoff is awesome, but in today’s climate people are going to, for the most part, pick and choose certain tracks from this album and only go to those.
He’s built a lot of these songs around hooks and earworm-like melodies that can really stay with you. There’s some really good stuff here. On the other hand, with most of these tracks built on hooks, I was missing depth in some areas. I think it could have been dope if he would have gotten a little deeper into the darkness so the payoff of the light at the end would have been more dramatic. I also felt that a lot of the beats and melodies sounded alike, and I could have used a lot more variety when it came to those two things. All in all, this is very solid. Nobody does it quite like Xay.
Overall Rating – At The Bar
What do you think? Listen to Broken Nightmares below: