By Grant Golden
Cover photo: Keenan Hairston
November 24, 2019
North Carolina’s music scene is so tightly packed that it’s hard for an artist to truly stand out among the sea of talent. There may be bursts of popularity from acts with a particularly strong album or single, but a lot of these artists tend to fade into the background. Then you have groups like Young Bull, an act that feels perpetually in motion and evolving toward a sound even more defined and unique than what they’ve already crafted. From humble beginnings at a Durham School of the Arts talent show, vocalist Tahmique Cameron and pianist Solomon Fox joined forces with rapper Christian Sinclair and morphed into a musical powerhouse that eschews expectations, bringing together hip-hop, R&B, soul, jazz and more. On their newly released EP, Young Bull Is Not An Individual, we see a beautiful amalgamation of disparate sounds that coalesce into an impressive step forward for the band.
Opening track, “When I Come Down,” is a brilliant display of the depth in Young Bull’s production prowess. It’s a dense track that’s as driven by organic instrumentation as it is textural samples. Delayed and heavily reverbed vocal samples float into the ether, but remain packed neatly into the background of staccato guitar lines and smooth vocal melodies. The song’s structure parallels its own narrative, as Sinclair weaves together a story of a fleeting love in a marijuana haze, the listener bounces between a dreamlike trance and straightforward, driving rhythms, bringing about a sonic comedown of its own sorts.
On YBINAI, Young Bull manages to explore the outer reach of their established sound, traversing down intriguing new paths, while maintaining a grounded structure in catchy-as-hell, soulful hip-hop. Tracks like “City Girl” and “Faxx” are bonafide hits that feel radio ready, which isn’t to take away from the hook-heavy nature of their other tracks. “Voodoo” and ”Rockaway” feel more nuanced than the pop-leaning counterparts, and it is this dichotomy between the rigid and the robust that make Young Bull such a compelling group to listen to. Their debut album Sopadelic felt like an even mixture between sample-based, Dilla-esque hip-hop and neo-soul R&B, but now the parts have come together to make an even greater sum. While Young Bull’s soundscapes are already enthralling, one can’t help but imagine that there’s still plenty of growth to come, given that these young musicians are still only five years out from their debut effort.
But one can’t only fawn over the production aspects of Young Bull when there’s such an incredible vocal and lyrical display from the band’s songwriters. Cameron and Sinclair have a fantastic interplay between their swiftly spat rap lines and vocal melodies; it allows for their songs to turn on a dime and leave the listener anxiously anticipating every bar of every verse. Take “Faxx,” for example: Cameron contributes to the passionate hooks, but his verses can also contain impressive internal rhyme schemes and clever wordplay, all while maintaining a carefree and playful pacing. Conversely, Sinclair’s verses feel methodical and calculated, serving as a perfect counterplay to Cameron’s vocal cadence and pianist Solomon Fox’s jazz-driven arrangements. But regardless of whether you’re more tuned into their slick sonic arrangements or their sultry vocal swagger, it’s undeniable that every note and every syllable is a carefully thought out piece of the grander puzzle.
Now more than ever, it’s clear to the listener that Young Bull is not an individual, but rather a movement, a powerful force in the hip-hop world that’s slowly and steadily building momentum. Early releases have amassed millions of plays, they’ve shared festival bills with the likes of Badu and Miguel, and have recently gotten co-signs from North Carolina powerhouse Rapsody. With their steadily built and impressive releases, YBINAI gives Young Bull a powerful closing statement for the year and positions the band to leap into uncharted territory in 2020.