Written By: Andrew Sedo
Mansionz is an experiment in what it’s like to be multi-talented. The self-titled debut from genre-benders Mike Posner & blackbear, Mansionz is nearly impossible to pin down. Posner who skyrocketed to fame with 2010’s “Cooler than Me”, and recently re-charted with the rave-pop smash “I Took a Pill in Ibiza”, spends the record struggling to shed his bubblegum reputation. Whereas, blackbear, who rather anonymously penned Justin Bieber’s world-crushing 2012 hit “Boyfriend”, holds the album together with taut production and distinctively haunting compositions.
What happens when two pop princes get together and try to shed their shallow reputations? The answer is a 51 minute journey through the unexpected. Nowhere is this more evident than track 5, “i’m thinking about horses”, in which Posner & blackbear launch into a powerful spoken word diatribe about God, sexuality, and obviously, horses. Buried at the end of the 6-minute exercise is the best evidence of blackbear’s deadly production skills. The last 30 seconds culminating with a Dennis Rodman feature I affectionately call “green devil.” This reference to the duo’s matching neon green hairstyles, provides the most stirring and bombastically jarring trap rhythms on the record.
However, the listener is left begging for more as mansionz quickly moves into the predictable “nobody knows”. This is the problem with mansionz as collection of songs, for two men who clearly do so many things well, they can’t seem to settle on what they want to do differently. Posner is stuck between 1-2 rhyme scheme punchline rap, and masterfully handling hooks, and choruses. While blackbear’s production throughout is unconventionally sublime, his lyrics, and singing explore little more than tired R&B tropes of drugs, money, and unloyal women. For a prime example, look no further than “My Beloved”, the album’s first full song. The track opens with a haunting wispy choral rendition of the eventual refrain, before Posner takes over with “I never wanted to own you / just your neck / just your good needs / just your two breasts”. Posner can’t seem to subvert the sexist role of the traditional rockstar without falling back into his own misogynistic stereotype.
Once blackbear gets a hold of the reins, he leaves you wondering why Posner was featured at all. This inconsistency and loyalty resounds throughout the album. For example, the album’s 3rd single “Dennis Rodman” has some of blackbear’s best production, and Posner showing off his signature cigarette soaked voice. However, it is consistently bogged down by lyrics that come off as non-sequitur. The pair dovetail around the chorus “I don’t care ‘bout who’s watching / Dennis Rodman” who later appears as a feature (with surprisingly awesome results). The group functions best when blackbear handles the production and rapping, and Posner is confined to flexing his style on the chorus. Standout “A Million Miles”, which closes with a screwed down verse, one of the pair’s strongest, follows this formula.
Another surprising hit is the Lauperesque 80’s throwback “Wicked” as proof of blackbear’s versatility, and Posner’s ability to consistently crush a chorus. “Stfu”, “Rich White Girls”, and “Strip Club” have little to offer in terms of originality and seem like unsold R&B industry leftovers. Furthermore, the contrasting messages in the back to back songs “White Linen” and “Gorgeous” have blackbear bragging about a threesome where he “grabbed one by the hair / grabbed the other bitch by the throat” before crooning “Did you know you’re on fire? / Did you know that you’re beautiful?” Closing with the puzzling medieval styled epic poem “The Life of a Troubadour”, probably wasn’t the best choice. The ending chorus “I’ve been feeling under pressure, baby / Got me feeling these feels inside” is borderline self-parody. In many ways this song summarizes the quest evident on mansionz. They set out on a mission to make a record of their own.
After a few plays, the listener begins to wonder, couldn’t they do better? The problem with both blackbear and Posner is their constant flashes of transcendent exceptionalism. Blackbear clearly has a superior ear for musical influence and the ability to craft a wide variety of sounds that all have a uncanny DNA. Likewise, Posner’s deftness and unquestionable style make him the perfect frontman. In the end, the genius peeks through but not the torture. Mansionz is a lazy masterpiece that is just so close to being different enough to make a difference. It’s clear that Mansionz don’t care what anyone thinks, but maybe they should.