By Tyler Bunzey
July 19, 2022
Hip-hop is aging. Just a year shy of its 50th anniversary, hip-hop music is no longer the exclusive territory of the young. Jay-Z’s 4:44 (2017), for example, swapped the braggadocious luxury rap of his early catalog for an exploration of marital strife and repair. Lute’s Gold Mouf (2021) is deeply introspective, wading through crippling anxiety and depression in his desire to find community. Kendrick Lamar’s most recent release Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers (2022) is a meandering eddy of the emcee’s self-reflections, tackling fame, cultural influence, and generational trauma. While hip-hop’s youthfulness has not faded from the mainstream, the form has begun to explicitly tackle what it means to be grown in a heavy world.
In this vein, Tab-One turns inward to examine the weight of adulthood on his newly released album, Glory in the Weight. The Raleigh emcee examines the burdens of consciousness– working for a living instead of for passion, for fatherhood– over a VRY SNKY-produced, lo-fi soundscape reminiscent of his early ‘90s influences. In his ruminations, the emcee balances both a kind of existential dread and hope, ultimately settling on the latter. “Real life is a really rough texture,” Tab reflects on “Do Work.” “I’m going to put the weight on my back and shine bright all day and all night.” Whenever the rapper seems to teeter on the precipice of nihilism, his hopefulness pulls him right back.
The album, in a way, picks up where his last release left listeners. Balancing Act (2020) swapped Tab-One’s bars-about-bars and boasted of his abilities for reflections on his newly minted fatherhood. Glory in the Weight zooms out further from fatherhood, thinking about the pressures ranging from the dross of a passionless 9-to-5 to fulfilling one’s life purpose to making sense of our contemporary political clusterfuck. While Tab doesn’t necessarily find the answers to his questions, he settles around the idea that the pain has purpose. He intones on the album’s title track: “There’s glory in the weight, consider it conditioning / probably god preparing you for what your mission is, so what’s your mission kid?”
Tab’s lyricism unsurprisingly shines throughout the album, but he also excels as a curator in his selected features. Fellow Kooley High bandmate Charlie Smarts delivers a brilliantly lazy, loping verse on “No Worries.” OC from NC’s guest appearance on “Heavy” is arrestingly powerful, harnessing the emcee’s booming voice through a compact lyrical reflection on life’s stresses. Tab balances quite a few strong moments from collaborators– including other appearances from DJ Ill Digitz, Napoleon Wright III, and DJ Triple B– with his own work, never overshadowing his message while giving ample space for others to shine. As such, he is both emcee and curator, supporting his message with the voices of his powerful features.
While the album carries strong reflections on the weight of being grown, its political reflections can at times feel stale. The track “groupthink” runs through themes like the divisive nature of online social networks and news media. Tab decries “news on the loop with the hoopla” on “Cool It Down,” and explores the “where did we go wrong?” as a social trope on “Same Ol’ Song.” While these reflections are undoubtedly understandable in the contemporary context, they don’t necessarily add anything to the discourse. Reflections like these– without a bit more nuance of the complicated benefits and detriments of social media, for example– risk sounding more old than aged.
However, these moments are just that: moments. As a whole, the album explores the complexities of adult despair and it encourages listeners to arch toward hope without saccharine kitsch. As Tab-One puts it in “Breathe”: “You can hear real life in the EQ.” By portraying adulthood as a complicated and often shitty experience, Tab eschews the hip-hop pillar of fictive luxuriousness for another: keeping it real. Who cares about the crown when the head is heavy on its own? There is goodness, however, in this weight. We just have to go and live our purpose, as Tab encourages us to do on “Limit.” If we do, maybe we can find beauty in the pains of growth.
Listen to Tab-One‘s latest album Glory in the Weight.