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Medhane - Cold Water Music Album Reviews

On his latest project, the Brooklyn rapper realizes his vision. His forceful and focused bars are just one aspect of the highly skilled emcee’s community-focused and spiritually rewarding music. 

Medhane raps a lot about where he’s going and how he’s getting there. So many of his songs are about forward momentum: taking strides, chasing truth, setting his own pace. But movement without direction is simply wasted energy, and where his previous projects occasionally resembled lyrical exercises that developed a philosophy and a worldview in real time, his new album, Cold Water, feels like putting long-held plans into motion.

Scars and trauma have been markers of Medhane’s raps, but he’s no longer bound by those wounds, he’s empowered by them. “I ain’t show it but I’ve been through the most/Took a minute just to get in my glow,” he says on “Na Fr.” While he’s no clearer about the origins of his injuries, he bears down on the lessons he can extract from them. The result: His most present and clear-eyed project. These songs aren’t just about perseverance anymore; they’re about taking action—using experience as a teacher and a guide.
On 2018’s Ba Sub, Ak Jaam, Medhane explained that his father told him “always choose your words,” guidance he internalized. As he put it, he was speaking with his chest while others stumbled over what to say. On Cold Water, there is even more force and focus behind his bars. The verses on songs like “Late” and “I’m Deadass” are painlessly tricky, never sacrificing their immediacy in their pursuit of uncluttering his mind. “No Cap” and “All Facts” feel like chapters ripped from a hidden, hand-written manifesto. The rapping on Full Circle, the mixtape he released earlier this year, was economical at the expense of impact, but here, Medhane pairs concision with power.

Medhane cites New York City stalwarts Roc Marciano and Ka as influences—you can hear them in his measured, unembellished delivery and in his bare-bones production. After producing all of Full Circle himself under the moniker AFB, he takes a step back on Cold Water. Duties are shared with Ohbliv, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, Navy Blue, and frequent collaborators Bori, iblss, and Stoney. This is, without question, the best-produced project of his career so far. His production on Full Circle was intrusive, and the loops enveloped him like tidal waves crashing ashore. Cold Water, by comparison, is more understated and invigorating. The beats are gorgeously gritty, warped yet whole; he remolds jazz and soul samples as if from particles of sand, which brings the clarity of the raps into sharper relief.

There’s a lot of rapping about mazes, and Medhane usually sounds like he’s writing his way out of them. But his rhymes have never been more direct than they are on “New Drip” and “Truth & Soul.” He unlocks each song with probing flows, finds his way to its center, and then he retraces his steps outward. Relationships often serve as his compass. By now, that posse of musicians has begun to formalize: MIKE, Navy Blue, Jasper Marsalis, Maassai, Gio Escobar, Caleb Giles, and Akai Solo. All have had some impact on the way he thinks about rapping, producing, and improving. “Love my brothers but I seen ’em change/For the better,” he raps on “Live,” an affirmation of collective growth.

In addition to finding refuge in his little tribe, he’s now maneuvering on its behalf. These songs aren’t just bound by all the shared wisdom of his insulated hip-hop commune, they expand the movement and stand for those in it. “Working while they talking/Ball in my court/My little sister growing so you know who it’s for,” he raps on “No Cap.” A self-sufficient rap co-op is only as strong as its weakest link. “On a mission since the sandbox/I ain’t winning if my man lost,” he adds on “Full Hands.” There are still plenty of unanswered questions on Cold Water, but you get the sense that all the things left unsaid are stoking Medhane’s quiet resolve.

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