Bar Exam: Swoope – 24 (First Listen Review)
To this day, Swoope’s 2018 album, Sonshine still gets constant play. When he’s definitely had bangers present on previous albums, I felt like that was his most complete album to date. Swoope is an artist who seems to make his albums one complete thought, by weaving transitions between each song and keeping a fluid concept throughout. His production, writing, and performances are always top-notch. I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in his bag with 24.
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.
After taking these things into consideration, I rate the project on a three-point scale. “Below the Bar” is something that needs help and doesn’t keep my attention throughout. “At the Bar” is the middle of the line and just okay, not really moving the needle any certain way. “Above the Bar” is something that sets a new precedent for the artist and is a tremendous accomplishment altogether.
New Day – An old piano plays a familiar tune at the top. Distorted vocals bring in the beat with a live bass line that freshens up the sound. “For every hard night know the son coming again.”
He rattles off an easy flow but a rhyme scheme full of punches. “I pray before I yawn.” Then the music dies a bit so he can bring a melody in. The bass rumbles as it punches back in, and his tight flow becomes more aggressive. I love how he’s got such a strong pen while also dabbling in the melodic stuff. It works on this song.
Still – Jump into the trap immediately. This song seems so simple. Like the beat is insane, adding layers and progressing with the song, but Swoope is just doing his thing here. The hook is tight and succinct and moves back into the verse effortlessly.
OKF. – Interlude at the top. Sounds like a Pastor introducing Swoope. A Mike Todd shout-out at the top. I dig the samples in the instrumental. That part seems to be on loop, and the layers that are added are there to add to what Swoope is doing. He’s bumping Old Kirk Franklin. Swoope’s performances are so intricate. He never keeps the same tone or flow or pitch for too long. Another interlude at the end.
Cuz We Can – Slower laid backbeat. The ingredients are all here, but it’s like they’re in the wrong order or something. Because the beat is nice, the hook is easy, but then I didn’t feel like Natalie’s verse hit the way it could have. I thought Swoope’s verse went bonkers, but I had tuned out by the time that came around because I felt like there was a bunch of fluff before it.
24 – The synth bass is moving around, with Aha stopping by for a chorus. Metaphors about a new day/24/Kobe. Yeah, this song bangs. It’s cool how most of these are less than three minutes long. Swoope doesn’t play around, he gets in and gets out, doesn’t feel like circling the plane over and over again. Makes me want to replay the track immediately.
Put In Work – Horns samples. It’s big. The beat and the flow work together. He starts to pause heavily, moves to a bob and weave type flow, speeds it up a bit, then rips off a flow reminiscent of “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” – like he’s seriously using everything that could possibly be in his bag.
No Grease – Yo this is raw, as the name suggests. He’s telling us where he came from, sharing his influences, and the flow is bonkers.
“My alma mater was taught by Marshall Mathers/And Sean Professor Carter and Kanye West for starters/
And Tribe Called Quest, and Common, and Nas, Andre 3000/Three stacks for short/
Lupe Fiasco talked all about food and liquor/I took what I learned from the words and I filtered it through the Scriptures”
Forever – These beats are so tough man. There’s so much depth to the sound, and everything fits into the puzzle perfectly. Swoope starts off with a K Dot-type flow, but he tells you he’s doing that by quoting Kendrick himself. Derek Minor takes some cues from Swoope and switches up his flow a few times on his verse as well. Wow. Some of these songs are over just as quickly as they started.
With You – Introspective. Swoope is storytelling. Reflecting on the time he had with his mom while she’s dealing with/passing away from cancer. Powerful song. The topic seems thrown in, but I’m not sure how you share something this important in the middle of all of these bangers. For an artist that I’ve appreciated how he handles transitions from song to song in the past, he’s pretty much cut and dry with how all these songs fall in.
Ghost Dad – This one is about a dad that’s not there. The beat here is a bit more old school. Scooping beat and grimy bass line. I dig the samples thrown in, definitely bobbing my head along with it. Cam Wallace is a really nice feature here.
Again the hook is quick and to the point, not distracting or detracting from the song. Sounds like his mom was a better example of a parent, but as he grew older and had kids of his own, his perspective has changed. The conclusion is to “navigate all the trauma with the Holy Ghost, dad.”
Stethoscope – Piano lines are always on point with Swoope. His vocals are slowed a bit on this flow. I like the texture it adds. This one plays out like a prayer.
“So I settle to let it go/I guess your shoulder is as cold as what Elsa froze/
Guess when you’re older you just know when to let it known/I hope you hear my heart like a Stethoscope.”
Remember – The music swirls at the beginning before it unfolds into the sample behind a sick trap beat. Swoope is always throwing in some wordplay.
“Last supper feeling I found out the villains who I used to break bread with/
Olive branches over Olive Garden turning into beef over breadsticks”
His falsetto stuff into the melodic flow is fantastic. This is probably my favorite track on the album.
Mirror Mirror – “Don’t want to face myself/Mirror Mirror tell me what you see.” This one is all melodies. Swoope’s versatility paired with his producing prowess is something to behold.
Okay Alright – Jimi Cravity is crooning at the top. Sounds a little more CCM than the rest of this project. Song seems to be about grace, believing that God has forgiven you, but also forgiving yourself. This one also feels like it used a lot of imagery from the previous song. It talks about looking in the mirror. Makes me wonder if “Mirror Mirror” was an extra verse that may have been intended for this song? I could give him the benefit of the doubt though, too, and think that maybe these songs were placed together precisely because the themes match.
Flowers – High Society is back. Let’s go! Sounds like they’re picking up where they left off. The instrumental is intricate, it’s got some soul to it though. This is nice. Give people their flowers while they can still smell them. Sho Baraka comes in and talks about how we should shout out the pioneers while they’re still around – Reach, Cross Movement, and he wishes he was that way with Fish (DJ Official). This last verse from Swoope is so crazy.
To conclude, I believe Swoope is in a tier all by himself. I’ve noted it a few times, but I don’t think there’s anyone right now in the game who can pair excellent beat-making skills with writing skills like this. With that being said, I think with his last full-length, Sonshine, he raised the bar. Here, with 24, I don’t think he came anywhere near that. I didn’t find the energy to be as consistent, I didn’t find the direction and hand-offs to be as fluid, and while there were certainly a handful of bangers, they weren’t enough to put this project over the top for me.