Bar Exam: A.I. The Anomaly – Soul’s Acrylic (First Listen Review)
If you’ve been living under a rock, A.I. the Anomaly (a 2020 Rapzilla Freshman) just dropped her first full project with God Over Money. She’s a person who uses art in every facet of life, and is a huge inspiration for her hustle and grind as well as her creativity. I’ve been pumped for another project from A.I. since I spoke to her last year, so let’s dive in.
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.
Soul’s Acrylic– Rain is pouring down. There’s a bass line moving around organically. A.I. starts in a pondering state, slowly building the flow as a crescendo. She’s talking about the blank canvas she has to paint on, and this recital comes out like a stream of consciousness. This one doesn’t grow in typical ways. We hear percussive-like congas and bongos before we hear kick and hi-hat. It started out feeling like an intro but this is a whole song. I notice how her rhymes in this song foreshadow the names of other tracks (possible concepts?) on the project. She’s a natural. Captivating.
Eastside – Another organic bass lick. Her rhymes are so on point straight away. It’s like she’s flinging paint at the canvas. She goes off on some wordplay. I can’t keep up. The hook is straight to the point and is perfect. “I’m all in it and authentic I’m all trippin I’m off cause I don’t involve gimmicks” Sheesh. She goes from that to some alliteration with P’s then rolls into the hook. It’s a barrage of lyricism and it’s amazing.
Facts – This beat is a little different than what we’ve heard. Loops in the background with some rim shots panning back and forth left and right. A.I. lights the mic like a match and just goes off, man this is crazy. The performances here are determined and bold. As she digs in she’s talking about not compromising what she believes. “What you represent? Truth.”
Freedom’s Palace – Melodic rap over a full music bed. Airy organs over more organic percussive sounds. Jered Sanders starts out melodic as well. It’s a worship song. “I lift your name when it’s messy.” I dig the versatility on display here already and we’re only a quarter of the way through the album. Just as I was yearning for more bars, A.I. doesn’t disappoint and brings in a straight-up flow to close it out. I appreciate the self-awareness in the construction of this song.
Kodak Of Memories – Laidback vibes here. Rhodes and an easy drum loop. A.I. is reminiscing on her mother, landing on a challenge to spend time with those you love. She looks at her kids and sees herself in them. We’re just trying to be a reflection of the Father that God is to us. No one is perfect, we’re just trying to make the best of the time that we have.
Don’t Fail Me – I actually heard this track last year and interviewed her about this single release. Marriage isn’t easy. There’s vulnerability at every turn, and the only one who will truly not fail is God. “There’s a whole lot of chase in this” The ad-libs and the echos in the raps are so well done. It all matches the honesty in the lyrics.
We have this internal conversation with ourselves about how we don’t want to fail those we love, and at the same time are pleading with them to not fail us. It’s interesting to me how it fits into the larger scheme of this project. At the time of its release, this track felt like a single that would stand on its own. The direction that the snippet at the end takes us connects it to the big idea of the project and the canvas of life.
Grab My Hand – A pensive piano line starts off this track, with some washing water. Zhanna Reed with the soulful vocals. It’s emotional. “Grab my hand, I’m here my friend.” A.I. comes in telling a story of a friend, someone who is really struggling. She deeply cares for this person. The kick and snare come in and are the glue needed underneath this dope flow. We find out that she’s talking to her older brother here. Wow.
Not Ok – Jill Scott vibes. Synths and laser beams. “I ain’t too proud to say I’m not okay.” This one feels like an interlude.
Journal Entry Six – This is a track that shows up on each of her projects. (BLNKNVS had “Journal Entry Five,” and so on.) She has a conversation with her daughter about what a journal is. She raises the curtain on the idea that this song will be one of her journal entries. She’s been looking for better days. She’s got a lot of soul to these melodic performances. She doesn’t just hang out there though, she moves on to flows.
“Meanwhile the killers creep/Bullets flying by/Come in like lullabies/Corners with candlelight/
Serve you like dinnertime/this little light of mine I’mma let it shine”
She throws that Kendrick-like raspy and airy voice on top of the melodic flow. She can really do anything on a mic. The beat is really easy and doesn’t change much except for pauses that enhance her punchlines.
“I’m not oppressed by my skin/I’m oppressed by my sin. You too”
Relentless – Bizzle starts off with an unexpected double-time rap. The instrumental didn’t really call for it, but it’s flames. A.I. starts out the way I would have predicted. The production is nasty on this track. When she goes into these pause-heavy rhymes and lets her dubs respond, it almost feels like two personalities throwing the lines back and forth at each other. I love how it sounds, but I feel like she wrote a lot of these tracks this way. We’re more than halfway through though and at this point, it’s not over-used but it could get that way.
I’m Just Saying – Electric guitar solo fades away quickly into a grimy beat. Selah chops it up at the top. The wordplay on these kilobit rhymes is cool. They’re talking about selling out, and moving in the ways of the world rather than standing up for what’s right. Calling out fakeness.
Gold – We’re twelve tracks in and not one of these tracks has begun the same way. Especially with these longer projects, artists tend to get formulaic. Not in A.I.’s case. I appreciate the intentionality behind how everything ebbs and flows together. The keys in the instrumental sounds like the chimes that would be part of a 70s game show or sit-com theme song.
Eshon is at the top of this song. I appreciate how A.I. lets herself clean up after most of these features. I think I’m used to hearing the features later in songs in general. Just an observation. This song is about respecting black women.
“Tell me what’s the root of it all/or do I evolve/am I queen or a slave/strip the chain or strip for change/
Grip the stain/it’s a myth to change/no victim blame/I overcame/all your whips and chains/
You could see the pain/past full of evil aims/hit or miss/clench a fist I see what missiles did/but we never lose…”
Grown Woman – Eerie tiptoeing-like string plucking underneath the hook at the beginning of this track. As we proceed into the song, she moves from an almost hushed voice to pushing the rhymes out from her diaphragm. She’s about to lose her breath, she’s clenching her teeth on these words. This is probably my favorite track so far. It’s got some of that old-school mafioso vibe to it. She’s so charismatic it’s phenomenal.
Choices – Alright this is an instrumental that sounds familiar now. It was bound to happen eventually. She is singing the hook at the top. “The choices are yours.” The first verse is a list of everything she’s familiar with. She’s had it tough financially, but Jehovah provided for her. The hook’s meaning changed for me when I heard it the second time. Sounds like a marination on the idea of free will. It may be a message to her children on how to navigate life?
Preach – So I had already heard this track before I hit play on this today. Honestly, when I saw where this track was placed – near the end of the project, it only made me more excited for what would be elsewhere. When such a strong song is placed near the end, it shows confidence in everything else on the menu. The construction of this song is so dope. The visual that’s available along with this is incredible too.
I’m fluid, torch the light, ain’t no match for youngins/ A.I. on the yay high/But flow by with the cross/
Carry team like I’m A.I. no verse, son/ Mommy bars in the booth, get your work done/
Your name can’t be A.I. without an A.I. nod. This song is perfect, honestly. From the laid back beat to the hook, the performance is insane, the writing is tremendously on point. Mad props.
OK OK – Similar textures to the intro track, as well as a full flow here. It’s like a reflection of all we just heard. A conclusion to the masterpiece, if you will. This is a final description like she’s taking a step back to observe her piece of art. Pulling out all of the themes that were touched on.
Wow. The artistry in her delivery and performance is incomparable on this album. Her bag is full of any and every tool a rapper would need, and she pulls out each one at will. She’s a master on the mic. The beats are jazzy and organic but can get gritty in spots, and while some textures might have been played out, her execution over the top of it all is exceptional. Soul’s Acrylic is an absolute treasure to hear and sets a standard for every subsequent album to be released.
Overall Rating: Above The Bar
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