For every Audubon fan that appreciates the behind-the-scenes grind depicted in MTV’s Washington Heights there is a hip-hop head that questions his skills as an MC because of his reality-TV background. A lot of these same critics have loved the summer of 2013. Albums like Kanye West’s Yeezuz, Jay Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail and J. Cole’s Born Sinner have given hip-hop a jolt from its molly stupor. Although these albums have us talking about hip-hop as art again, none have introduced us to anyone new or in the early stages of their career like Audubon’s Hotel Audubon.
Unlike Kanye’s Yeezus, Hotel Audubon is an easy listen. In trying to establish and expand his fan base, Audubon does not take any risks and yet makes it difficult to hate on him. You will listen to this album without skipping tracks. You will be singing, “I think they scared cause I’m coming,” from The Reason produced, “The First Coming.” And occasionally you’ll rewind to listen to bars like:
I was raised by the stop signs, mad hoes and pagers
Street lights, cab drivers, bodegas and liquor
Stores, pimps and whores when it rains it pours
So in my hood it poured rain hit them crackhead’s head
Then hit the crack viles in the cracks on the floor
…. I’m just being Bansky with ya
See most don’t wanna look but still I draw this damn picture
This stains of blood like paint all in my hands…
Mentioning Bansky while describing Washington Heights over a dope beat makes for one of the best tracks in the album.
Hotel Audubon’s production is just as accessible as Jay Z’s Magna Carter Holy Grail. The instrumentals of “View from the Balcony,” “Lobby of Regrets,” and “No Such Thing” would get non-stop radio airplay under different circumstances. Hip-hop producer Eckz manages to create sounds that allow Audubon to show off his voice and flow effortlessly. The reason why Hotel Audubon is an easy listen is the same reason why it will remind listeners of other artists.
The production along with his flow and hooks will remind you of Drake and The Weekend respectively. However, Audubon’s demeanor sets him apart. In “Us over Them” he begins the track by saying, “You know when you see that… you see her walking down that block like damn, wondering who is tucking that in at night.” Audubon manages to entertain the barbershop and the beauty salon without alienating one side. He doesn’t try to be hardcore nor does he come off as overly vulnerable.
We listen to J. Cole because we expect great things and see him growing lyrically in the future and we listen to Audubon for this same reason. The difference is that Audubon has yet to be co-signed by the king of hip-hop. Audubon has been putting in work for years, until most recently executive producing and co-starring in MTV’s Washington Heights show, which turns some potential listeners off.
However those trying to dismiss Hotel Audubon because of the rapper’s reality-TV background do not understand that the hip-hop game has evolved and reality-TV is part of that evolution. Hip-Hop is not only about self-expression, but having evidence that supports that expression. In other words, when you rap about “keeping it real” you better have proof. So it is only natural for new rappers to be transparent. The same way mystery helped peak interest for artists in the past, transparency is helping and will continue to help sell records and concert tickets for artists with nothing to hide.
In executive producing MTV’s Washington Heights, Audubon did more than just rap about his come up. He filmed it. Reality TV shows and social media are not just a marketing ploys anymore, but an extension of what it means to be a hip hop artist who “keeps it real” with their fan base.
This is what separates Audubon from Drake and others who claim to have started “from the bottom.” The “bottom” is relative and some people’s struggle is realer than other people’s struggle. But when Audubon raps, “I’m struggling to pay that light bill,” we can Google his name and find that he is keeping it real about his struggle.
Hotel Audubon proves Audubon can flow over boom-bap, New York sounds and trap, southern beats. He can also sing and rhyme, which will have you comparing him to established, young artists in the game. But this is no EP mixtape but a very impressive, complete album. So the question becomes one of longevity: Will we be talking about Hotel Audubon as a mixtape that showed Audubon at his best or will we look back on it as just one of many great albums in a long line in his music catalogue?