31-year-old Chuck Strangers began his career producing for Pro Era, the Brooklyn collective that counts Joey Bada$$ as member. Strangers dropped some bars on Bada$$’s opus, 1999, but it wasn’t until his 2018 debut, Consumers Park, that he began rapping in earnest. His first effort felt a bit like old Joey Bada$$ karaoke; it was solemn, thoughtful, brash, and delivered over some of the smoothest boom bap in the concrete jungle. It was cool, but it wasn’t exactly original.
Strangers started his transition from Bada$$ clone to a more cerebral, morose type with his 2020 project, Too Afraid To Dance, in which he ditches the upbeat tracks in favor of ruminations on loss and antisocial tendencies. And with his new project, The Boys & Girls, Chuck Strangers’ metamorphosis is complete. He is now a full-fledged member of the psychedelic blues-hop coalition, alongside the likes of Mavi, Earl Sweatshirt, and MIKE.
He raps like he thinks optimism is a mortal sin, and the beats he chooses sound like the result of giving the night sky LSD. And yet, despite reaching a new creative apex, Strangers doesn’t offer much that sticks. The Boys & Girls follows the blueprint of Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs, espousing compact tracks and a monosyllabic, impolite delivery of starkly pessimistic raps over a soundscape that sounds like an Alchemist cover of the Taxi Driver score.
As a collection of songs, The Boys & Girls sounds quite solid. Not one of the tracks overstays its welcome, and Strangers’ gruff baritone folds smoothly into the folds of every beat. Some of the strongest tracks, like “Suydam St” and the jubilant “Prospect Park West” show immense range and multifaceted talent.
But, from a curatorial point of view, this album suffers from a lack of focus. The first two songs, “Dettol” and “Prospect Park West”, complete with chopped choral samples and brass sections, sound like they are setting up for a gospel rap album. Immediately after, we get “Devin Hester” which sounds as if a Griselda song did Xanax and rolled around in the mud. Then, the 68 second “Outlaw” delights in going nowhere while the listener waits for it to be over. Tracks like “Venison,” “Benevolence,” and “Say” flip the channel between braggadocios, depressive, grimey, and comedic far more nonchalantly than they should.
After all this whiplash, the listener is left unsure about how they’re supposed to feel. This album tries to be too cool for its own good. Strangers keeps his audience at a distance, revealing little about himself and any concrete anecdotes he might be able to produce. Instead, all we get are vague, esoteric wists that sometimes connect to the lines around them but often don’t, showing that Strangers may think the lo-fi, cryptic rap sounds cool, but doesn’t have a grasp of what makes the sound work.
At its worst, The Boys & Girls is middling. The beats are repetitive, the lyrics confusing and hard to discern, and the transitions are decidedly poorly thought out. But, at its best, the rhymes are dexterous and punchy, and Strangers sounds comfortable in the spotlight, dishing out bite sized wisdom for two minutes at a time and promptly skipping town.
Nothing is quite bad, nor does it stand out, leaving Chuck Strangers latest a decent listen for a brief time, but devoid of staying power.