Swordplay is an emcee formerly based in Richmond, but now living in Berkeley. It’s been six years since his last release, a collaborative album with Pierre the Motionless called Tap Water. Since that time, Swordplay went to law school, and is now officially a JD/MC. Earlier in the year, to celebrate it’s 10th year anniversary, Milled Pavement re-released his 2009 album, Malista. It also served to act as a teaser for his new release, which is finally here in the form of Paperwork.
It’s interesting to think of Malista as a lead-in to Paperwork, since the albums are actually pretty far apart from each other. I mean, it makes sense that an artist would be making different music ten years down the road, but it’s a little jarring to listen to them back to back. Malista is a pretty minimalistic album that leans a lot more on the indie-folk side of things. When you get to Paperwork, you get an album that is a lot denser in style, and a hell of a lot darker in tone. Working mainly with producer Fat Milk, along with OneWerd and PT Burnem, this album swirls together goth and industrial with hip hop and electronic beats and flavors the whole proceedings with touches of new wave and emo. This might not make a lot of sense on paper, but what this means in practice is that this album is not happy-go-lucky. It’s dark in tone, and the production is always in motion. Swordplay has never sounded more tortured as an artist, whether he’s rapping or singing, whether he’s talking political failings like our healthcare system or the surveillance state, or just talking about his own mental health. To his credit, Swordplay does a great job of connecting the dots between the personal and the political, and it never feels like he’s just switching gears in between songs. No, he’s pouring his heart out, and both his concern for the state of the country and his own personal well-being are more than legitimate reasons for him to get worked up and feel some angst and anxiety and to work it out in his music.
Paperwork isn’t a “fun” album to listen to, and for that reason it won’t be for everyone. But for those of you who aren’t afraid to get a little dark and open up some wounds with your hip hop, Swordplay is offering a really heartfelt album that confronts a lot of unpleasant issues in life.
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