Over the past decade, it’s become aware that a co-sign from an artist of S-tier status isn’t as prominent as it was before the social media boom. Like Kid Cudi and the rise of “Day N Nite” on MYSPACE, there are many who make their boom without the backing of another artist to redefine it. Now, a co-sign has become beneficial if you make it so – we’ve seen some artists fizzle a bit, and others take that next step. For Florida rapper $not, he has taken each feature after his standout hit “Gosha” and has made a continuous statement about his will in the rap game. That candor spread through past albums, and it continued when he dropped “Doja” featuring A$AP Rocky. He is gaining more exposure; however, it is only the tipping point; $not follows it up with the album Ethereal as it shows an evolution in his craft as he comes into his own. His sound is more profound and clear, and it shows proper direction through a whirlwind journey of a career.
When a friend played me the video for “Doja” by $not, I got transfixed by the unique hybrid of hyphy East Coast Hip-Hop topped with coatings of cloud rap toppings. It gave me an ethereal zone that took me back to the first time “Yoshi City” by Yung Lean got played for me. So as I plugged in my headphones and jacked into the album, it took me to another level of musical bliss. Unfortunately, Ethereal, as great as it is, trips along the way with tracks that muddle at first listen and retroactively proves why with the overall quality. It reminds me that you have to take every diamond in the rough with seriousness as you never know what you’ll get. That is definitively the case with $not’s third album, Ethereal.
Ethereal keeps a smooth transition from start to finish, with moments that make his best qualities stand out. Within these transitions are the muddled tracks I spoke on. However, it’s specifically the case with songs “ALONE” and “FIGHTING ME.” The former features Trippie Redd; however, the song’s construction makes it fly by without hearing Redd’s rock-like vocals. There are moments where you can’t differentiate on a first listen, and returning shows how mediocre the song compares to others. The production mirrors some of the more maligned melodic-rap productions we hear today, except the rock flair Trippie Redd adds isn’t attention-grabbing and generic. $not doesn’t offer much lyrically, wasting its energy.
These tracks become a lesser problem, as $not offers enough to elevate the 14-track album to new heights. “Euphoric” sees $not channeling an inner Juice Wrld with its production style, adding his subtle touches before switching tempo and giving us a dynamic shift with the emotions behind the context of its chorus. The chorus sees $not speaking of the divide between his character and others – this speaks more on his adolescence with the lines: “Fuckin’ on your ho, we the Bang Bros (Woo)/This a Glock, we don’t even name bro/We is not the same bro (Huh)/Open up your eyes, let ’em inside.” In his verse, he subverts the dark bravado by delivering pensive bars about what’s inside: “Fighting all my demons in a past life/This gon’ be the last time/Told my shorty, “I just wanna die.” His tempo and vocal switch add definition to the demons he speaks on.
Opposite “Euphoric” comes a track like “5AM,” where $not deliver a great chill-out/cloud rap where he embodies that laid-back maturity to counteract some of the deeper parts of Ethereal. Many of these tracks balance cloud rap elements(atmospheric sounds) with bombastic drum-percussion, and in “high IQ” the acoustic guitars. $not keeps a consistent prowess, even when the tracks don’t contain the strongest lyricism. It’s easy for a rapper to lose themselves in redundancy, but like an essay, it needs supporting examples to keep it afloat. It’s the case with “Benzo;” $not has a lot of fun flexing, even though some of the stuff he raps about, we already heard some other variation. But $not’s flow, rhyme scheme, energy, keep it in steady rotation with other tracks that go hard – production-wise.
$not’s continuous toe-to-toe with his features proves to be another highlight, whether it is A$AP Rocky on “Doja,” or Joey Bada$$ on “How U Feel,” $not brings his A-game. It’s a true personification of his talent with the pen and paper. There is no need to bout them against each other – i.e. who killed who on the verses – and retroactively, we have to see how they match in lyrical and technical quality. “Halle Berry” is unlike these tracks since $not take a step back and lets Juicy J ride the beat with a verse better than most of what he put out with his collab tape with Wiz Khalifa. It’s not the only surprise, with $not giving us the antithesis of this on “BLUE MOON,” which sees $not letting his guard down and dueting with singer Teddi Jones over an acoustic guitar-driven ballad.
$not comes and delivers an auspicious follow-up to Beautiful Havoc, one that leaves me excited to continue to listen as he develops. His strengths are on full display, even with the occasional misstep, and that is what keeps you reeled into his boat. Ethereal makes it all prevalent as he lands the typical I’m Here For Good statement, and like many, I’m all here for it.