RA CHILD is honing in on something. This experimental hip hop rapper and producer has been brewing material in the St Louis underground for a while, and his Soundcloud account holds a long history of one-off songs, beats and conceptual undertakings that have intrigued me for a while. The amount of material is overwhelming and not necessarily because of how many songs there are there, but because of how dense and complex RA CHILD’s brand of hip hop can be. His sound relies on disjointed feels, unexpected grooves and a delivery that starts and stops whenever it pleases. I can’t say I’ve listened to all of it, but every time I encounter a track by the project I click on it knowing that I’ll hear something I haven’t heard before.
Naturally, when I saw him share a bare link on Facebook that appeared to be a Soundcloud playlist called “fere infinitum” with no other text to accompany I had to give it a click. The art fascinated me– the thickness of oil paint has a way to plunge messages forward and the color palette ended up a companion to the sounds in my experience. In fact, the presentation grew more confusing and interesting the more I stared: RA CHILD was in caps as always, but “fere infinitum” wasn’t capitalized, and slight variations in the track list formatting determined no right answer for me. Perhaps this could strike some as trivial, but to me the deceiving nature of the presentation works as a premonition for the sounds about to follow.
“fere infinitum” roughly translates to “almost infinite” in latin– at a fifteen minute runtime this release doesn’t feel concretely infinite at all, but as soon as it’s over the disorientation does call for repeated plays through. In my listens I ran it three times in a row sometimes, attempting unsuccessfully to decipher messages and cope with sonic manipulation. In terms of production the EP is a gigantic step up for RA CHILD. The beats are forward-thinking and intentionally let go of regular conventions by panning elements wherever in the spectrum, stacking off-putting textures atop each other, off-setting rhythmic patterns for an uncomfortable stagger, and setting up a sonic identity that closely resembles the abstraction we see on the cover. The vocals are a huge highlight for me: I’ve spent a long time trying to dig through distorted RA CHILD vocals in past releases; on “fere infinitum” his voice is as clear as water, and like water it positions itself wherever it gets taken with fluid flow and dynamics.
The release opens with a strong instrumental introduction. “Mantra For One” feels slightly like a supersonic highway in a dystopian future– the vocal samples give me a feeling of being brainwashed and prepped for a new standard. As soon as it staggers it’s quickly interrupted by the EP opener “mold”, a short tune that bops erratically with synthetic percussion that engages in off-set syncopation atop decisive bass synths and pads. References to Buzz Lightyear and Ghost Recon present the themes in a deceivingly light fashion, but the rapper’s message is hidden deep and darker than we expect. It’s a solid introduction for what the EP is trying to do, and its ability to showcase this confusing and torn persona RA CHILD is embodying.
Indeed, the first half of the release presents us with a character that appears confident, strong and arrogant, but the tone of voice and lyrical hints show us the emotional vulnerability seeping through the cracks. The concept is strong and works because of a new intention in vocal production paired with a complete unwillingness to be straightforward and coherent. Images hit my brain and connect with other past ones for a loose narrative, but considering that this is the easiest to hear RA CHILD’s voice has ever been, I find it funny that I still don’t truly understand anything. This quasi-impressionistic style in lyricism permeates the whole track list: Specific words make way for new ones to create strange passageways tinted by a whistling sample on “North Star”, acquaintances at the graveyard are followed by references to one’s kids atop a supremely violent beat on “Ssentinal”. The fifth track “plutarch” is especially out there, with the vocals turned up to an almost comical degree for a shaking and insecure presentation of braggadocio that sees RA CHILD both claiming to be god and challenging god– a supremely uncomfortable thirty second fade out follows.
The almost artificial confidence and arrogance put forth in the first half turns into introspection and reflection in the second without letting the misleading and confusing narratives go. Ciej’s feature on the centerpiece “Electric Slide” is a fantastic example. A dense and slow-paced texture lays bedding for a fumbled verse akin to spoken word that breaks character and comes back in seamlessly for an intoxicating effect. It reminds me in intention to Lord Quas’ verse on Madvillain’s “Shadows of Tomorrow”: a rambling train of thought that always finds a way to go on as it gets harder and harder to follow. RA CHILD breaks right through the cool of Ciej’s verse with a ragged and raw tone of voice. The persona is much more vulnerable now, with stream of consciousness references to intoxication for coping, family, close ones and emotional baggage. The more open RA CHILD comes through, the more he feels the need to tag with a line of strength, perhaps as a ritual of self-love: “And my emotions they’re just eating me/ and my energy’s off” is quickly followed by “I walk like a g, like a beast/ You got two legs, I got three” to compensate and maybe cope.
This vulnerable intention tints the rest of the track list for a nice, stark contrast between halves. The supreme loudness of “Short Forevers” goes completely for it as beautiful horn samples try to seep through the thickness of the mix. It is perhaps the most straightforward song in its themes of independence from emotional attachment, and how that affects life as a parent needing to teach their kids just that. This one doesn’t beat around the bush and works as an honest reflection that becomes catharsis with the spectacular vocal samples that cut through in the outro. “Dreamer” is interesting in its presence here because of the carefree nature of the instrumental, especially when adorned by the autotune tags in the hook. It feels slightly out of place in the track list, but the one minute run time can work as a breather before the album closes and the themes fit right in the boot. “Purpose” returns to the overblown production: blistering kick drums pulsate underneath a massive blanket of noise and reverb that modulates slowly and independently. RA CHILD attempts to synthesize on the mic, spilling out all of the themes presented in the album one after another in order and out of it. If the second half of the album helped understand the rapper’s pain, this track dissipates all possible understanding with an information overload, perhaps attempting to inspire a return to the highway “Mantra For One” for an almost infinite experience.
“fere infinitum” can be inconsistent, rough around the edges or simply too abrasive for some. To me these qualities give the release idiosyncrasy while also representing a step forward for the artist. I’ve been waiting a while for an actual release from RA CHILD that isn’t a single and not only am I not disappointed, I am fascinated by his ability to put together an arc with such a loose narrative. I’ve always been a fan of RA’s production, but the beats that come through on this album paired with the experimental mixing achieve uniformity throughout the track list in a beautiful way, always reminding me of the abstractions in the album art when I close my eyes. The staggered delivery, disjointed ideas, uncomfortable rhythms, incomplete sentences and overwhelming textures that characterize this artist are all here, but the ill-pronounced intention of concept glues them together into a piece with magnitude I hadn’t perceived before in a RA CHILD release. It’s a fresh and new mission statement that gives me a much clearer picture of what this artist is trying to do, while also leaving me very curious as to where this sonic intention could go next. “fere infinitum” is immediate in its intoxication, but long-winded in its revelations and to me that makes it “almost infinite”.
Listen to “fere infinitum” via Soundcloud down below: