Written By: Andrew Sedo
Originality: (3.5 / 5) Vocals/Flow: (4 / 5) Lyrics: (3.5 / 5) Production: (3.5 / 5) Average: (3.6 / 5)
Try to imagine if The Weeknd went wholesome, instead of disco. At first, the sounds in your head may well resemble 23 year old Vancouver, Washington artist Reo Cragun. To put it simply, that is not a knock. He is not marketing his music an R&B alternative for those wary of tired tropes of drugs and disloyalty. Instead, his debut project, Growing Pains, is a refreshing return to the heartfelt and authentic. If anything, Reo is not ashamed to pay homage, pay respect, and put his true feelings on record. His new wave further blurs the lines between bouncy trap, punchline rap, and old-school crooning.
What makes his music truly different are a variety of vocal stylings that show the universal youthful appeal of the angst reducing properties of a good post-hardcore snarl. “Fallin’” could make an excellent head banging cover with a few minor tweaks. However, it appears Reo is hesitant to move completely forward with a genre-fusing movement a la contemporary Lil Uzi Vert. One of the best features of this record is how easily Reo shows signs of youth and maturity. Look at the difference between the seductively sweet, “Prom Night” and the blatantly bombastic “Balance.” In Hip-hop it is rare to find a 23 year old who is ready to embrace a calm-headed, read and react approach in the face of conflict. He states calmly over woofer busting bursts “I see through the static / No panic on me / you can read it in my face / … I hold my composure, like I’m supposed to / I’m balanced, balanced” followed by brags about never owning a gaudy necklace. With “Balance” Reo is striking a nerve in contemporary society where many view money, violence, and others as a distraction to their ultimate goals instead of the goals themselves.
The following track “Peso” fails to make the distinction between ridiculing those who “go crazy over bankroll” and praising the chase. That being said, the same song with the aforementioned The Weeknd at the helm is a top-10 hit. Subsequent track “Night Crawler” expands on Reo’s range as he embarks on an almost operatic exploration of late night city streets. As the album closes with “Inconsiderate” flexing both a penchant for chorus crafting and double time dexterity, and “Say it Ain’t So”, an out and out heart wrenching ballad, we can see how Reo has a natural knack for songmanship beyond his years.
The question remains, is Reo Cragun another renaissance man in the shuffle of a genre-wide awakening or a special talent waiting to find a niche. Even if there are familiar parts, and recognizable lyrical strings, it creates an irresistible attraction, one that can only come from someone that doesn’t care about being cool or making it huge.