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defend the album is a lyrics-first blog by me, bradley fields, about the stories and moments I find in albums that matter to me. Almost always in fewer than 1,000 words.

Rexx Life Raj's Father Figure 2: Flourish

Father Figure 2: Flourish is more of an introduction to Rexx Life Raj than his 2016 prequel. It’s colorful work with four foundational brushstrokes: him as “Adderall Raji,” a focused persona that uses discipline to get free; him, skeptical of outside forces; him, working on making his father proud; and him as neighborhood hero.

I’ve seen ‘em do it wrong; I’mma get it right.

The confidence on 2Free is healthy. His allegiance to the Bay grounds him as much as it gives him something to boast about. His shift from football to music—the source of a bunch of lines—shows he’s willing to pivot to a new bag. And while his mention of Black Lives Matter at first seems riddled with disregard, it’s instead dogged individual pursuit: gotta make it, movement or not.

I’mma keep betting on Faraji, even though it’s risky.

On Where I Belong, Raj oscillates between risk and the confidence of accepting it. The track is rooted in self-awareness. It’s an unlikely coincidence that it’s the only track in which he mentions his full first name.

King me, bitch; I made it all the way across the board.

The Around the Way Girl sample is a star on Raj's Level Up. He seems genuinely comfortable setting himself as the standard while sonning the rest of the field. Yes, every rapper says the field is trash, but Raj’s good enough to claim that “Your favorite rapper is now a fan in [his] mentions,” or at least should be.

I can’t say I’ll be flawless, but at least I know what my flaw is.

Lowkey Lovesong is about being an imperfect part of a relationship. But not as excuse, as promise (“That’s something I’m working on”), spurred by the familiarity of failure and the potential of a future.

Iman’s feature is a smooth include, mirroring the track’s primary sentiments but adding personalized reflection. Her literally riding for it (“On the 580...”) is a welcome claim to that heavily-gendered metaphor. And “Hold up, bitch; I ain’t asking you” is hilarious protectionism.

I run from demons; I run from my problems.

The piano-driven Paradise is great self-examination. Raj admits the ease of falling into avoidance when challenged. Is that flight in the face of fear? Yeah. But the distance flight creates can strip what’s feared of its power—even if that power once temporarily in your hands is illusory.

The track’s intro is a reminder that, on every song, we’re watching Raji work towards something he’s still looking for. We’re always watching the loneliness that breeds. But as he’s navigating the distance between what’s now and could be, he’s rerouting (“I’ve been moving mountains; you see me changing the landscape”). There’s solace in that.

I just need to feel something, feel something, feel.

There’s common envy in Never Had Shit / Feels (“All my friends into high fashion; we could barely afford those”). Maybe that perspective is full but incomplete. The assumption that someone else’s haves could fill the gaps of our nots is often wrong. Raj acknowledges the limits of his perspective’s reach (like the truths he didn’t, at first, understand from his dad), so it feels safe to assume this track is what happens when you grow and look back.

Feels is the go-to here, though. It slides in with a west coast quiet storm vibe. It’s Drake-ish (lonely, desperate for realness), but without the assumed persecution. The sound engineering creates distance, like we’re a layer removed from the recording (a la Lloyd’s radio-tized feature on Telegraph Ave).

The interlude at the end reminds me: This album’s inserts/skits are relevant and fitting in a way I haven’t heard since The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

It ain’t what you tellin us; it’s how you come across, fam.

Fiji uses the idea of Adderall causing cottonmouth to illustrate the cost of focus. It’s also absolutely packed with lines, like “I’m watching my life transform into a life goal” and “Switcheroo; this the new Aunt Vivian.”

‘Cause what’s the point of having everything I wanted if I still feel alone?

The most emotionally expensive aspects of relationships aren’t the merges but the acquisitions. In More Than Enough, we get some examples. The wants you have for your person. The expectations the families gain. The expectations you have for handling yourself better. And the reciprocity of supporting their needs (e.g., Raj not complaining about her searching for a job in a different state, because he’s been away too, on tour).

Change a lot of people’s lives with an aux cord.

Pride shows up in bundles in Neighborhood Dopeman and Forever Lit. In the former, the inflight skit is wonderfully rude. In the latter, “the nigga with the leverage, [who’ll] cut the supply chain” gets G-Eazy as hype man.

It’s less niggas in Paris and more niggas in courtrooms.

In The Otherside, Raj decries non-entrepreneurial spirit and investing in schemes (“Dirt bike skirt over dreams that they peddle niggas”). The amped-up, staticky delivery of “illuminate your mind” sparked memories of Black Ice on Def Poetry.

Pencil me in your schedule; I need my one-on-one.

The album’s homestretch leans heavily on samples to carry its themes. More Love—like More Than Enough, a track about better love—has sounds of Hotline Bling, Erykah’s Bag Lady, and Ghostown DJ’s My Boo. Kid Cudi’s all over Not My Friend, a track about how lonely it is at the top. And Ventilation, Pt. 3—about the costs and confetti of trying to make a life—leans on Drake’s Find Your Love.

You lit that fire in me.

Burn Baby Burn has a sound that’s perfect for a literal fadeout. Its star is its humility. “I know I ain't the only one, so I'mma just fall in line” isn’t slut-shaming. It’s Raj elevating her and not pressing.


Notes

Release date

November 17, 2017

Producers

Cisco Cortez · Drew Banga · DTB · Evan Ma · Ian McKee · Jon Brooks · JULiA LEWiS · Kevchoice · Kyle Betty · Mike Gao · Mikos Da Gawd · Mr. Carmack · Wax Roof

Writers

G-Eazy · Kid Cudi · Post Malone · Rexx Life Raj · Russ

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings' Soul of a Woman

Lee Ann Womack's The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone