Let’s just get two things out of the way. First: Rapper Slim S.O.U.L. promised to release his recent LP Late Graduation almost one year ago, even describing a plan to the City Paper for another album in 2019 to accompany it.
Second: The last year was time well spent. Slim put everything he had into this one, crafting a polished neo-soul and alternative R&B influenced hip-hop record. From top to bottom, Late Graduation is a vibrant piece of work, as lively and brightly colored as its cartoony artwork.
“I spent a lot of time mixing, getting the tracks, re-recording tracks, redoing tracks, I just thought I needed to tweak some more … the next thing I know, it’s a year later,” Slim laughs. “But I’m glad I took the time because I’m just really happy with how it came out.”
It’s only been a few days since Late Graduation was released, but it’s already got an unofficial slogan: Better late than never. Though the description is teetering on trite at this point, it’s such a succinct way to sum up the LP.
So many details are woven into the album’s fabric, showing Slim’s meticulous personality as a musician. Album opener “I.T.S. (ft. MardySays)” begins with quick piano rolls and a simple funky bass line, but the production stacks layers upon layers as the song progresses. By the tune’s midpoint, a violin is voice-leading, chimes are decorating the background, synths are closing verses, and a playful vocal sample is laid on top.
Slim builds the momentum on “Back Back,” rapping over a driving drum beat and keys like a pro that just wants to have a good time.
“I’m on the beat like butter to a flapjack/ these butterflies in my stomach flutter/ like no other when I’m on the mic/ I don’t stutter when I’m on the mic/ hard bodies turn to flubber when I’m on the mic/ shit, I might need a rubber when I’m on the mic,” he says while changing his flow.
“Prof. X,” the album’s ethereal soul-rap centerpiece, sees Slim go off for seven minutes about the past and present of oppression directed toward the black community. Echoing calls to “wake up” are let out in the backdrop, making it feel like the last push before someone awakens from a deep sleep.
[content-1] “I had a lot of different thoughts about [“Prof. X”] and a couple other songs that took awhile for me to just figure out what I wanted to do with them,” Slim says. “I feel like everybody does it; it gets stuck in their head or gets stuck in that perfectionist mode where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not good enough.’ I kind of had to get out of that.”
One of Slim’s favorites, “Time to Bump,” even directly references and pokes fun at Slim’s history of delaying projects with a voicemail from Speakerbox bandmate MardySays asking him when they’re going to finish their mixtape.
“He’s been dealing with me doing this shit for a minute, so I definitely had to put him on there,” Slim jokes.
Saying Late Graduation is about college life really sells the album short. Songs about shallow hedonism and embarrassing stumbles on the way to adulthood are noticeably absent, like a sophomore skipping POLI 102. The album is more concerned with confronting the changing emotional state of a young man as he learns of all the pain and joy independence can offer, making it more of a bildungsroman than Animal House.
“You start out college like, ‘Fuck, yeah. It’s a new experience, I’m about to be this dope new person,’” he recalls. “But then as it goes on, you realize there’s a lot more you need to learn, there’s a lot more you need to be doing.”
Each track represents a different mood Slim went through in college, he says, and it follows a general thoroughfare watching the rapper grow up. Looking at the first and final tracks, “I.T.S.” and “Late Graduation,” listeners will notice the difference in his persona. While they’re both rapid-fire braggadocios moments, Slim doesn’t just tell you he’s the man on the last song — he tells you everything he has to be proud of and lets the listeners draw their own conclusions.
“I hope people can take those feelings away from [Late Graduation] — those clear cycles of life, of how you feel, finding yourself, getting your confidence, humbling yourself, taking a step back, and then coming back at it from a new direction,” Slim says.
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