The slacker wits of the most opulent beat-maker in rap today
“La musica de Harry Fraud” has become an increasingly recognisable tag in the past few years and a reception to some of the most gorgeous and opulent beats in hip-hop today. The producer made his name working on fellow Bronx native French Montana's early mixtapes and his distinctive style – a blend of rich samples and mostly-traditionalist boom bap – has drawn in a strong portfolio of collaborators. He recently collated a varied set of his previous tracks and ten new ones for 'Adrift', his first “solo” project. It's patchy, inevitable with this kind of producer compilation, but demonstrates a good range of his work to date and highlights the different ways his sound can be utilised.
Harry Fraud's beats are typically indulgent but more eccentric and raw than the kind of crystalline “yacht rap” that someone like Rick Ross embodies. A lot of the rappers he works with are fantasists of varying shades: from good time charlies like Mac Miller to artful crime connoisseurs like Currensy, deft absurdists like Action Bronson and flamboyant goons like French Montana and the Coke Boys crew, but all focus equally on the toil that goes with the successes. Fraud actually has a minor credit on Rick Ross' last album 'God Forgives, I Don't' for putting together the opening interlude Pray For Us, a sample of a prayer for forgiveness of both past and future sins from John Singleton's film 'Baby Boy' set over ominous strings the helps set the tone for a collection of tracks that make attempts to explore the darker side of his persona; going back to watermelon fields and cracked projects as well as Maybachs and yachts. Though his relationship with wave king Max B is indirect, the influence of the incarcerated legend – really more a modern blues-man and folk hero than a typical gangster rapper - is huge.
The mixtape cover, a photo of a brooding sky over a Hampton harbour by local photographer James Katsipis, is a clear signal for the depth of feeling the beats are meant to inspire. Besides the decadent crime narratives, a popular choice is nostalgia: whether the evocative Pimp C-tribute Cassette Deck or Kool G Rap and A$AP Twelvyy's stamping affirmations of their New York heritage; split by a generation but similar in tone. The remix of Chinx Drugs' manifesto track I'm A Coke Boy, and _We Rollin'_ are the best examples of jubilation on the mixtape and Washington DC rapper Fat Trel matches the producer's exceptional technical skill and a natural soulfulness. Some do respond in with less abandon – Mac Miller and Chiddy are serviceable but take on an instrumental that demands far more and Danny Brown just needs something sturdy to vent over on _#HottestMC_- but Fraud mostly succeeds in creating cohesive atmospheres with his collaborators.
The samples are often smooth instrumental lines from soul and classic rock but he can turn in surprising anomalies like contemporary jazz band The Seatbelts' jaunty _Sax Quartet_ on Sir Michael Rock's Oooh Oooh Oooh or the many sped-up samples culled from unlikely sources like The Bronski Beat and Bryan Adams. A real gem is the WaveMix of Stalley's Petrin Hill Peonies, nestled at the exact middle-point of the tracklist. The original is perfectly decent but Harry Fraud's use of The Buggles' I Am A Camera focuses the heartbreak and hope at the song's core (“Sally's garden the only thing that ever moves me/the grass blades and the trees they be talking to me”) and elevate it into something rich and awe-inspiring, almost transcendent.
It's a highly-poised gritty luxe that's currently missing in much of the upper reaches of rap and, though his contributions to 'Adrift' are mere hints, French Montana is probably it's most important torch-bearer. His vocal stylings can be as wonderful and louche as his dress sense but his progression from successful mixtape rapper to chart-topper, engineered by Bad Boy's Diddy and Maybach Music's Rick Ross, has unfortunately tended to rely on beats that do little to emphasise that. Pop Dat, his biggest Billboard success yet, is a banger but swamps out the over-lubricated sing-song cadences that mark his breakout single Shot Caller and earlier highlights like Playing in the Wind, both produced by Fraud. Montana's latest mixtape 'Mac & Cheese 3' – presumably the last before his debut 'Excuse My French' comes out in May - is dominated by the very talented Young Chop, the architect of most of Chief Keef's biggest songs, but goes for brawn at the expense of nuance. The rapper's best moments are on tracks that allow him the space to stretch his voice like Water, Sanctuary and Harry Fraud's Florence + The Machine-sampling head rush Only If For A Night and the Billy Joel (via Jay-Z) interpolation State of Mind.
A lead album totally dedicated to these kinds of overwhelming head in hands and face to the wind moments may be too much to ask but Harry Fraud's 'Adrift' certainly shows a very talented producer who is mastering a style and a broad range of rappers who are more than happy to experiment with it. For anyone who enjoys rap that sounds like it developed and emerged from a cocoon draped in Versace, this can only be a good thing.