Album Review – Sean Bruce’s ‘Off The Porch…’

The DMV turned Cali resident has a new album titled Off the Porch…

Sean Bruce is a California-based artist that’s fairly new to the scene; but don’t let that fact lead you to underestimate him. Growing up in the isolated military town of Portsmouth, Virginia, Sean didn’t live a conventional childhood. He spent a lot of his time back and forth between there and Virginia Beach, where his father lived. But when he had time to himself, he used basketball and music to connect with the few people around him. Hip-hop became a place of solitude, and it helped him connect to his family and his roots. Both of Sean’s parents grew up in the Bronx and watched as the culture developed and evolved, sharing stories and fond memories of dancing to DJ sets in the middle of parks, watching as people confidently hopped on the mic. He grew a fondness for the New York artists that helped the movement grow, getting exposed to the creators of the genre from his mom. While new school artists such as J Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller, Ab-Soul, and Wale have had a direct influence on his music for their techniques using intricate language and story-telling to discuss serious and relevant subject matter, Sean has felt a strong respect for those who are ‘your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers.’ Although the new-school references are extremely apparent in his music, it’s also clear to see that he grew up on artists such as Nas, Lauryn Hill, Andre 3000, and Ice Cube, hearing their impact on his creative decisions.

Sean didn’t start creating music until 21, although he was always fond of writing. One of his co-workers had appreciated his extensive taste in hip-hop which spanned far beyond what was receiving radio play, and requested that he join him for a studio session to provide his insight. After accompanying him to the studio a few more times, Sean’s friend mentioned having him hop on the mic for a track. Although he’s not sure if was to be taken seriously, he went for it anyway, creating a song called “Dreams.” The track discussed his love for music and his desire to make his own, as well as the different obstacles that prevented him from following through with it. The start was a bit slow, but after a year, Sean decided to take it seriously, recording new music without hesitation. However, his artistic merit didn’t just stop there; he also took his writing skills to the big screen, working as a screenwriter, producer, and director for short films.

Off The Porch… begins with the track, “Another Day.. (The Blue Pill).” I love the concept of the track, and the fact that Sean picked a motif of choosing the blue pill and sticking with it throughout the whole song. His tone definitely resembles J Cole, and yet when he sings, the effects he uses makes me think of older Kendrick Lamar. However, it doesn’t sound like he’s trying to copy them. It still sounds like his own sound, which I really dig. The production is beautiful and simple, with delicate layers that I keep discovering as the sound progresses. It also has a very hypnotic rhythm to it which contributes to this modern-day Matrix theme. As Sean contemplates the effects of choosing either the red pill or the blue pill, the idea that he has to continue to endure the struggles of every-day hardship feels exhausting and depressing, as if there’s no end in sight. And yet, while the production works well with these themes, there’s still a feeling of resilience and wanting to push through. He wants to make the most of his time, striving for productivity and working hard. When Sean questions why “it [feels] like [he’s] doing so wrong,” I instantly thought of “Mr. Solo Dolo.” And yet, once again, it feels like drawing inspiration or seeing references rather than directly trying to copy a piece of music. I think this is a super dope track, and it provides a lot of insight into who Sean Bruce is.

I instantly like “Die a Nobody.” The language and imagery are extremely vivid. He hits the very opening line with a powerful approach, rapping “where do the pain dwellers go when they seek asylum?” setting a dark tone for the track. The wordplay on the line, “you separate our families and keep us divided, a house just ain’t a home without a leader to pilot” was extremely clever, and so relevant to everything going on in a number of ways, commenting on issues including our current government and immigration policies. Some of the wordplay was giving me Hamilton vibes, and I mean that in the best way possible. That really intellectual, history-based rap that teaches you a lesson. The singing line at the 55 second mark lost me for just a second, and I wish that was executed differently because the line did have a heavy impact. I think at some points, the singing is a bit flat, and while it normally doesn’t bother me too much, that bit just caused a slight disconnect. He sets up the second verse by repeating the lines, “pray I die a nobody, but if I die somebody,” finally continuing on. That was absolutely amazing. A really cool decision on his part. And the second verse is incredible, taking the listener back in time to the days of King Arthur. That whole verse had such beautiful diction, feeling like you’re being transported through time from Medieval Times to the start of the universe. But then, around 2:05, that same little bridge repeats and I’m just not feeling it. I appreciate the way it sets everything up, and I think the tone is cool because it has a darker feel to it, but it just doesn’t work for me. I really loved the ominous ending to the song, but I think the very end could have been tailored or faded out in a really cool way.

“Wwydf$$” has another really dope beat. So far, that’s been solid. Enough to complement Sean’s voice without fighting with it, especially because he takes on more intricate rhyme schemes with multisyllabic rhymes. I really like the fact that I can see direct correlations between the titles of the track and the subject matter, without it being repeated every chorus (although in this track he is; but either way, there’s a connection, and you would be surprised by how difficult it can be to find it sometimes). I think it required a lot of thought, and I appreciate effort being put into the small details like that. The song talks about classism and capitalism, using theories such as Reganomics and Trickle-Down Economics to back his points. The extent of Sean’s references and subject-matter is extremely impressive. This track also discusses the relationship between those who create, and those who consume, creating a really interesting power-dynamic and push/pull feeling. As a result, it comments on those who live comfortably as opposed to those who may not have financial security, creating a bit of tension. The chorus has a lot of soul to it, feeling like Common and Kanye West’s “The Corner,” especially as it brings a bit of a bounce to the second verse. I like the idea of the come-up story, showing what it’s like to be on the other side of the struggle, with fancy bottle service at upscale nightclubs. I also think this conversation directed towards the woman is a really cool idea, especially as it leads into the chorus, once again asking “what would you do for the money?” It reminds me of “A Film Called Pimp”, asking the girl how far she would go, specifically in reference to sex work, which we see mentioned in this song with lyrics about OnlyFans. I like to think that this is an extension of the character who’s at the club, showing this rich, douchey personality. I wasn’t crazy about the adlibs that began to fade the track out, because they felt a bit random, but besides that, the premise of this track is super dope.

“Alphabet Soup” picks up the pace a bit, but man, the details in the production are beautiful. The horns are insane! I appreciate the fact that Sean still kept the tempo of his flow at a moderate pace, because his wordplay is truly worth comprehending. He absolutely pops off at the 1 minute mark! First off, his breath control is crazy, but that switch-up is so dope. Mentioning all of the different religions was probably my favorite part, especially with the ending line of, “even the Satanists saying dear God I repent.” That line is so damn good. I don’t even want to dig deep into this track; this may be one of my favorites so far.

When “Anarchy” began, I wasn’t crazy on the mixing of the audio clip. I understand the intent behind the effects, but it was a bit harsh and made it difficult to understand what they were saying. The repetition of “let’s talk about it” was super cool though. It added a cool, funky aspect which I really enjoyed. The futuristic effects played really well with the track, and everything that Sean was rapping about was extremely relevant to today’s events. Also we know I love a good Donald Trump call-out. I enjoy how the subject matter of each song fits the overall album so far. Although it isn’t the same in every single track, the themes piece together a large narrative, and it’s enjoyable to pick it out. The production isn’t anything special, but I think it serves its purpose–it’s percussion heavy and sets the tone, while allowing the vocals, and more specifically the lyrics, to be the main focus. Unfortunately around the 1 minute mark, another clip is utilized, and I find the same issue with the mixing. And that, layered with the change in the production was just overwhelming, although I loved the idea of the background vocals that started happening. I think the concept was super cool, it was just the execution that was a little rough for me. The outro, however, was insane.

I love the fact that Sean brought back this idea of the red pill/blue pull in “From The Bottom… (The Red Pill).” I like that he put space between the two tracks, rather than putting them right after each other. The production is reminiscent of the first track without sounding like a carbon copy of it. I think I would have liked to hear a woman singing the lines opening up the song, just to offer a bit of a bridge before the first track and this one. Additionally, as much as I want to love it, the vocals just don’t feel right to me; they don’t sound bad. They just sound like they’re a tiny bit off. However, I love how Sean approached the first verse. His flow is super interesting on it, and I love the way he uses the beat to fill his spaces rather than simply rapping along to it. It allows for both his voice and the beat to work together to complete the verse. The fade out at 1:20 was absolutely beautiful. It was completely unexpected and out-of-character, and yet it worked so well. It felt out of worldly, as if you had just swallowed the pill, getting transported to somewhere far away. And although I’m not crazy about the singing part, I did really enjoy the transitions. I thought it was done very smoothly.

“God’s Gift” was the perfect amount of trap that the album needed. It had a Big Sean feel to it; it has the bounce and the drums for it, but there’s no compromising the lyrics. The adlibs were a bit over the top, but I think it added a comedic element to it. Similarly, the dynamics in the second verse were extremely exaggerated, but they gave me a good chuckle. My one complaint is the ending of the song. You weren’t able to make out the last bit of the lyrics, and it resulted in a weird transition between tracks.

The production of “Prove to Y’all” felt like it matched the title perfectly. As soon as it started, it felt like the type of song you would hear in Creed as he prepared for a big fight. However, I’m really trying to like the little singing bits, but I still can’t get behind it. I think it just ends up a tiny bit flat every time, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it just causes a break for me. I don’t hate it, and upon second and third listens it bothers me a bit less, but I think something could have been in its place. As always, it’s an extremely strong lyrical performance, and I thought incorporating the Cardi B clip was clever. The placement was spot on. I think the volume of the production was just a tad bit loud, but that’s a very minor remark. I love the way Sean chose to end the song, rapping that he “ain’t got shit to prove to y’all” before cutting the beat and spitting a Capella. Overall, that song felt a bit underwhelming in comparison to the others.

I wasn’t expecting to like “Lnwyhf?” so much when I first heard it, but I was drawn to the stylistic change in Sean’s tone. I appreciate the ability to create fundamentally different songs without it sounding like different albums. It was one of the more simple songs in terms of lyrics, and even then it’s still 10x more lyrical than what is played on the radio. And I think it worked perfectly for the song. But by the 2:20 mark, it lost me for a second. I appreciate the breaks for the singing, and they do split up the song at the perfect moments. But I still wish it was done in a different way that maybe flowed a bit better. Either way, I enjoyed the track a lot.

I absolutely love the transitions in “The Nerve…” The production is gorgeous; it’s so full of soul. I loved the imagery of describing how the woman “[holds] her wine at the stem/[and] if it’s Friday it’s Henny out the bottle.” It paints the scene of the song really well. I like the hook, I think it’s playful and catchy, but also arrogant and cocky, in an enticing way. It makes you want to learn more about Sean, and to see if he can back up all of his claims the way he can with his lyrical ability. I also really liked the line, “you’re either focused on the finish line, stumble and trip, or you dominate the obstacles, that’s two steps ahead.” I love the way he made that metaphor his own, something we see him do on a few occasions throughout the album. Around the 2 minute mark, the adlibs help to create a conversation with himself, and the flow is spot on. The way the opening sample comes back around full circle at the end of the track is really creative; rather than just throwing it in at the last 30 seconds, Sean incorporates it into the production, allowing it to fade out of the track.

The outro definitely has a Rocky feel to end the project, and the production does not disappoint. It might be one of my favorite beats. I kind of like the fact that he waits until the end to tell his story, mentioning his parents and their lives in the Bronx. He emphasized heavily on their lack of education, making his intricate lyricism that much more impressive. The line, “pregnancy wasn’t good on my moms, they inducing her early so now my landing is off” was absolutely amazing; I love the way that it makes Sean appear almost out-of-worldly, like he’s alien to where he’s going. Furthermore, it shows that he has control over his life. Also juxtaposing him and his mom with the crackhead and her new born baby in the hospital contributed to this idea that Sean doesn’t belong there, setting the pace for the adversities to come. I absolutely love the way he creates the setting in the second verse, beginning it with the idea that “now the year’s ’97 and Big and Pac up in heaven.” Sean’s ability to story-tell while maintaining an intricate flow and rhyme scheme is extremely impressive, and I thought it was interesting how throughout the album, he slowly showed little pieces of who he is now as a person, but then by the end, completely lays out what he went through to get there.

Overall, I think this is a really strong album. While there were some creative decisions that I maybe would have done differently, I appreciate the risks that Sean took to create his project. I thought the production was consistent and interesting, and each song had a different feeling to it. He managed to convey a variety of emotions, and it felt really natural to connect with each song. However, the lyrics took the cake. I usually pay attention to production before anything, but that became an afterthought to the verses. Sean’s grasp of the English language and his ability to conjure up the images of what he’s describing is beautiful. His references show that he’s extremely well-read, or really good at researching his topics, and went way beyond the surface. I think Sean proves on multiple occasions that he has a strong ear for musicality, and is an incredible writer. It was the perfect length, allowing him to demonstrate numerous strengths while minimizing room for faults and keeping the listener’s attention, and the album really felt like an extension of who he is as a person. You can tell that a lot of thought was gone into the small details, and the time put into it paid off. I think these songs would do really well in movies or with strong visuals, and I’m excited to see what he comes up with next.

If you enjoyed Off the Porch… make sure to show Sean some love on social media. You can connect with the Cali-rapper here:

Youtube

Website

Instagram

Twitter

Sponsored by Sean Bruce.

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