There’s something sinister hidden beneath the surface of Jaee Bryant’s latest album, appropriately titled Evil Lurks. Like a reptile swimming just below a layer of muck, the danger and the power of the brisk EP is concealed by a placid exterior. “The whole concept of Evil Lurks was just talking about the past. Negativity around myself, and through the past, I’m trying to move forward,” says Bryant.
While the album’s aesthetic is lo-fi soul beats and mellow rhymes, Evil Lurks talks about some heavy times in Bryant’s life. “$20,” the rapper’s favorite track from the album, is about a time in his life when he had virtually no money. “Not recently, but last year, when I was making my other albums and such, I was really struggling. I was struggling,” he says. “You can do so many things without spending money, but it’s a consequence, because you’re still struggling, and you’re still trying to get by.”
“I’m a young soldier, young king/ Young pride everything/ Educated black man/ Bring that pressure, bring that pain,” he says about his unyielding resilience in that face of total poverty.
As an unabashed fan of the genre that he works in, Bryant knows rap music is a part of the personal history that he wants to explore on Evil Lurks. “Pretty much the whole album is talking about respecting my pioneers in rap music and the rap industry, and some of my pioneers that let me down,” he explains.
Bryant’s shoutouts to his influences are sewn throughout. “Good kid, m.a.a.d. city/ The story of my life/ Raised from the north side/ Got to make it home by tonight,” he raps on the eponymous track.
“A lot of people nowadays are not respecting the industry,” Bryant says. “I feel like you’ve got to show your love for the people that inspired you to do what you do.”
Of course, all idols are human, and Bryant recognizes that with “Hero,” his dissection of Kanye West’s fame. It uses a remarkably effective sample of Ye talking about how many pills he takes to get a basic point across: “He’s losing his mind,” Bryant laughs.
“From College Dropout to the Late Registration/ You’ve been my hero for decades/ I’m devastated/ You disappoint me when you ran for Trump/ You got the world looking at you like we’ve been fucked,” he says in true rhythmic catharsis.
Bryant’s disenchantment at watching his inspiration fail him again and again is contagious. Who hasn’t been there, after all?
“It’s not a diss, but it’s like, ‘Man, you let me down.’ Kanye West was my favorite artist. He was one of those guys who made me start producing,” says Bryant.
In the album’s production, the rapper finds a new lane to show his respect to the pioneers. The beats don’t sound overly vintage, but they’re influenced by elements from rap of yesteryear, specifically in the soul and jazz vibe. “You know how in the movies you have flashbacks? Pretty much that’s how I wanted it to seem: like a flashback to the good old days,” Bryant says.
In the past year, Bryant has seen increasing success in the underground, including a rave review from rap media outlet Mass Appeal for his album Bloo. The rapper sees Evil Lurks as just a teaser for his debut studio album, which he promises will have different elements than his latest. He hopes to release the LP next year.
Overall, Evil Lurks, is a lot of things, but for Bryant, it’s a message of positivity. “I just want people to understand that there’s a way to overcome yourself and overcome the negativity around you,” he says. “I want people to understand: just be yourself. You don’t have to ride trends; you don’t have to do outrageous or say outrageous things.”
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