Album Review: 88rising - 'Head In The Clouds II'

Alex takes us through the highs and lows of collective 88rising's latest compilation record which, although showing moments of promise, ultimately ends up confused in its aims.

The compilation album has seen a rather successful comeback in recent years, with Dreamville’s Revenge of the Dreamers III and the Black Panther soundtrack being relatively solid records. On paper, the coming together of a group of artists who know and respect each other can produce a fantastic LP full of catchy hooks and some great chemistry. However, it can also lead to a disjointed project with little flow and some confusing combinations which will leave the listener scratching their head. Unfortunately, 88rising’s Head in the Clouds II falls into the latter of these two categories.

Image credit: Press.

I went into this project with high hopes. Rich Brian (formerly known as Rich Chigga) had just put out his phenomenal second album The Sailor; Joji has been killing it recently following the release of his flawed but highly interesting debut Ballads 1; other 88rising label mates NIKI and Higher Brothers (among others) have been enjoying a significant boost in popularity fueled by a string of successful singles. On this project, however, the 88rising crew find themselves drowning in their influences, and whilst there are a few notable highlights – usually courtesy of the stars of the label – the lows drag this album into mediocrity and sometimes plain hilarity.

Opening track These Nights features very catchy, 80s inspired production made up of Phil Collins-esque drums and some heavy synths. This bodes well, until Rich Brian’s extremely pitched up and autotuned vocals come into the mix. It’s almost unbearable, which is a real shame because tracks such as Yellow and 100 Degrees on his sophomore record prove that he really can sing. Luckily, the track is saved by a great feature from South Korean singer CHUNG HA, who echoes Ariana Grande with her very strong performance. Really, this should have been a CHUNG HA solo track, and this pattern continues throughout the album.

'The 88rising crew find themselves drowning in their influences, and whilst there are a few notable highlights, the lows drag this album into mediocrity'.

Often, great production and solid contributions from some artists are ruined by a cringe-worthy feature which simply shouldn’t have made it onto the record. A good example of this is the track 2 The Face by Rich Brian and Higher Brothers, which features one of the few rap verses on the album. Brian’s melodic delivery mixed with a hazy, 808 heavy beat is a great match, but is ruined by an awful feature from The Higher Brothers member DZ.

The biggest highlights on this album come when members embrace what they’re best at whilst also demonstrating a little experimentation in mixing it up a bit. The tracks Strange Land by NIKI and Phum Viphurit and Need Is Your Love by Joji and GENERATIONS from EXILE TRIBE are both fantastic. If you played the former to someone, they would likely think it was a Billie Eillish song (that’s a compliment). Often NIKI can sound like a generic pop star, but her emotional singing mixed with the slow steel drum and guitar (think Drake’s Passionfruit) production turns out brilliantly. Viphurit also provides a folk inspired verse which only adds to the song. Need is Your Love’s Daft Punk inspired beat compliments Joji’s laidback style perfectly, and whilst it certainly isn’t on the level of his 2018 hit SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK, I would be lying if I said the hook wasn’t stuck in my head.

If there’s anything this record does well it’s strong hooks, with Breathe, Indigo and Just Used Music Again all featuring similar ear worms. Unfortunately, you need more than a good hook to make a good song, and sometimes there isn’t even this level of quality to save a track.

Whilst there is a lot of mediocrity and some greatness to be found here, there are also some tracks which are just unlistenable, the worst offender being Hopscotch by AUGUST 08, Joji, Barney Bones and Rich Brian. AUGUST’s ‘Hopscotch shawty jumpin’ out a cool whip’ is terrible, and the usually great Joji delivers what might just be the worst verse of 2019 so far. Over an instrumental which could pass as “generic trap beat #454”, Joji raps in a laughably squeaky voice remarkably similar to the intonation used by Future to trash King's Dead by Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock. With lines such as ‘It’s bolognese bitch’, it’s mind-boggling how this god-awful song made it on to the album. Tequila Sunrise sounds like a Maroon 5 song (this time, not a compliment) with some big 808s layered over it, while the track Walking, featuring Swae Lee and Major Lazer, is a generic dancehall track which should have been released in 2016.

'The biggest highlights on this album come when members embrace what they’re best at whilst also demonstrating a little experimentation in mixing it up a bit'.

The best word to sum up this compilation is confusion. Unlike Revenge of the Dreamers III, there is nothing really to tie any of these tracks together; it doesn’t seem like an album made by a tight knit group of friends due to the addition of unusual and disappointing features, and the best moments are found when artists stay in their comfort zone.

Closing track Gold Coast is a solo track by Brian and shows what this album could have been. It’s a slow and beautiful melodic rap song – exactly what Brian has been best at recently. This is what we received on Head in the Clouds and it’s a real shame the mark was missed here. Hopefully the 88rising artists focus more on their solo careers as opposed to compilation records, which pale in comparison to their other work.