The title of Phil Adé's new mixtape, R.O.S.E., stands for "result of society's evil," but something less florid and less political—like "born into hip-hop's bad habits"—is probably a better summation of what's on the Silver Spring rapper's mind. If he's handing out any indictments, they're mostly against himself.
"Nas told me the world is yours/Best believe I'm gon' get what's mine," Adé says during the stomping intro track, "Nas Told Me," and if the salvo sounds simplistic and impulsive at first, the rest of R.O.S.E. shades it with nuance. By the time Adé gets to the line "Look what listenin' to Biggie in private has turned me into" on "Disappointed," he's not necessarily looking to hold anybody accountable. He's saying that if the rap game is going to keep pulling you back in, you should be able to properly analyze your own value system. (It's worth noting that R.O.S.E. arrives after a long dry spell for Adé; his last mixtape dropped in late 2011.)
In the world of R.O.S.E., the seductions of the street and the club are irresistible forces, and among all those vices, materialism is the one that Adé—with his unflashy flow and regular-guy voice—critiques most effectively. He doesn't always confront it head-on, though. "Every Bag" at first seems like just another song linking luxury goods and romantic appeal, but the swirly, almost ambient beat by longtime collaborate Sunny Norway piles up plenty of unease next to the glitz. Another Norway-produced track, "Check My Tags," focuses on the relationship between clothes and self-worth. While Adé assumes the role of label-conscious striver ("Fuck swag/This charisma/You niggas be lookin' dismal"), Norway cleverly backs him with an abstract jazz-guitar sample, implying some adult perspective on an adolescent hangup.
Other Norway/Adé collaborations go for big hooks or identifiable guest stars: On the sex rap "2 AM," UGK's Bun B brings some cocky contrast to the impatient character assumed by Adé, and "Big Mistake," which liberally borrows from "Not Made for Love" by the English band Metronomy, deftly balances buzzy bass with the original's delicate vocals. Other producers deliver similar goods by reaching back a decade or more: Ashton Gold respectfully recycles R&B group Xscape's 1990s hit "Who Can I Run To" for "Xscape," and DJ Black Diamond gives Adé and pal Raheem DeVaughn a breezy boom-bap beat with a hint of sleigh bells on "Simply Beautiful." There really aren't any serious missteps on R.O.S.E., although the "The Dreamer," with its Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama samples, seems like it exists more for context than anything else.
The smartest track might be the most languid: "Under Achiever," another Sunny Norway production, features Adé rapping from a completely disaffected perspective while a huge, aquatic bassline isolates his voice. Life is passing by this particular narrator, who is part party boy, part slacker. "I'm a underachiever/Smoke a lotta reefer/I don't do shit/But these hoes on my dick," he drones. The song is almost anthemic, as if there's something oddly heroic in taking hip-hop's I-don't-give-a-fuck ethos to a slothful extreme. That's hardly Adé's own approach to life, but like many of the other viewpoints on R.O.S.E., he wraps himself in it with the intention of finding truth.
Phil Adé performs Aug. 12 at Twelve Lounge.
Photo: Teck Photography