Pope Adrian Bless
Editor's note: As summer fades away, NUVO writer Adam Lukach is revisiting some of our favorite local hip-hop records released this summer with full reviews.
Perhaps more than any other time of year, summer-time music typically reflects its seasonal stylings. Tunes are lighter and more fun, often sweetened by saccharine sentiments or carrying a danceable tempo. The idea of the “song of the summer” didn't invent itself. Obviously not all summer music follows such a flowery blueprint: Neighborhood Lights, the first proper album from Crown Hill rapper Pope Adrian Bless, was dropped in late May, and despite its release date, it sounds decidedly unlike a sunny summer day.
Both the title and tone of Lights evoke the glow of street lamps at nighttime, the luminaries that witness nocturnal shenanigans across the city. Pope's lyrics are filled with stories and descriptions of after-dark activities, mining typical topics like women, weed and wylin', but also late-night moments of isolation and uncertainty.
On "Medusa," he tells the sad story of a doomed relationship and its ripple effects between a slopped-up hook that grumbles: "Double cup of my wildest dreams/ this chronic got me feelin' lonely."
There's an undercurrent of darkness to virtually every track on Lights, whether it's derived from Pope's own self-reckoning or the world surrounding him. He struggles with the rap world and his relationship with God. Even on "Spaceman Spliff," where Pope manages to create the seemingly impossible – a "stoner banger" track – he laces his rhymes as much with the paranoia of smoking or selling as the euphoria.
Sometimes his rhymes veer heavily into the abstract, too far into his own head with varying results, but even those efforts at least fit the aesthetic.
Pope also leans on his native Indianapolis for inspiration, and the city, in the midst of a bad year for violent crime, serves up some predictably dark material, some of which Pope touches on, including the escalating murder rate and perpetuation of the ghettos.
Indianapolis's inspiration, however sad, yields some great work, though. The less-than-90-second "Eastside Interlude" sounds vividly creepy, featuring a janky music-box sample ripped straight from a horror movie, some wonky drums and a Wu-Tang riff. The other city-named song, "AMIV (Crown Hill, USA)," features some of Pope's most impressive raps, flowing quick and slow comfortably and impressively over a roomy, ambient instrumental produced by Cencire: "It's me and my weapon at heaven's gate/ Got beef with my pops, we'll set it straight/ Get high with a shaman, come levitate."
Most of the album was produced by Harry Otaku and Mandog, who are an essential part of the eerie atmosphere that Pope aims for on many of his songs. But the most arresting thing about Lights is Pope's rapping ability; he possesses a punchy flow that's whip-sharp and still developing on wax. He's not averse to aggressively pursuing repetition or internal rhyme and pulling it off.That style, while technically brilliant, sometimes proves detrimental, as such an intense flow can be crowded by drums or become repetitive and grating. It's a good problem to have, though, because it means the dude can rap.
His best work comes on spacier tracks when he's doing more with less, and Lights features a dreary but cohesive aesthetic. Its quality fosters an optimism for Pope's future that is far from dreary.