Deante Hitchcock’s Luminous ‘Better’ Stands Head And Shoulders Above Its Peers

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Contrary to popular opinion, there’s actually a wealth of heady, intellectual, emotionally vulnerable hip-hop out there in the streaming economy. Even as more and more of the product readily available seems to take on the disposable qualities of the medium, some artists still focus on making art — the kind that’s meant to be lived with, that’s supposed to speak to something in the human spirit, that should comment on the conditions in which it’s created.

It’s easy to lose hope though. It’s like musicians are so busy trying to fill the bottomless pit of the internet to appease fans’ gluttonous appetites for “more, more, more” that quality isn’t even a distant second to quality — it’s not even a consideration. Thank whatever deity you choose to believe in for Atlanta’s Deante Hitchcock and his major-label debut, Better, the antidote to the ever-churning cycle of junk and the very definition of a diamond in the rough.

Ironically, Hitchcock could very well have gotten lost in the wash if not for another collective of hip-hop artists seemingly dead set on driving against the seemingly endless downhill rush to the bottom. After years of independent toil, putting out one excellent but criminally overlooked mixtape after another, the wittily observant wordsmith received an exponential boost in attention from his placement on Dreamville’s much-hyped compilation album, Revenge Of The Dreamers III. As one of the 100 or so recipients of what he called “golden tickets” — invites to the mysterious yet star-studded week-long recording session in his hometown — Deante received one of the most coveted co-signs in the game: That of J. Cole, one of the so-called “big three” top-selling, best-recognized rappers today alongside Drake and Kendrick Lamar.

It’s telling that it was Cole, the widely-accepted champion of the brand of thoughtful, mature rap that bridges the chasm between the pop-friendly platitudes of Drake and the dense mysticism of Kendrick, who ultimately put his seal of approval on Hitchcock. The Atlantan artist himself is somewhat of a bridge between the dusty funk of soulful Dungeon Family predecessors like Goodie Mob and Outkast and the brand of vibey-but-vapid trap of contemporaries who are off-shoots of the Future/Young Thug family tree. Equal parts T.I. and CeeLo or 21 Savage and JID, Hitchcock gracefully glides along on thundering 808s with spiritual insights and introspective wisdom that has as much appeal for fans of trap tales as it does for folks who love “real hip-hop.”

His flexes, while suitably bold to match his increase in status, are still relatable for anyone who hasn’t quite leveled up yet. On the album’s cocksure intro, “I Remember,” he recollects both “ridin’ dirty with my motherfuckin’ gas gauge broke” and performing “shows in Texas, back when the venue name was long as my setlist,” but just one track later, he crows “I Got Money Now.” In the latter track, he goes from “eatin’ on ramen to gettin’ it poppin’” and boasts that he “made it look easy, like Straight Outta Compton” over a triumphant sample of Minnie Ripperton’s “Le Fleurs,” combining contemporary Southern rap sounds with silky soul.

When it’s time to be vulnerable, he coolly switches gears on the 6lack-featuring midnight storm throwback, “How TF,” pondering “How the fuck am I supposed to tell you that I love you and know I really fucking mean what I said?” On the next track, he reunites with St. Beauty, with whom he previously partnered on their Revenge Of The Dreamer contribution “PTSD,” and Miguel to admit to his doubts in religion. “Can’t feel the pastor when he talk about upcomin’ rapture,” he notes. “Preachin’ money’s the root of all evil but ask for money after.” That doesn’t stop him from later embracing the contradiction, speaking to God — personified as a woman — on “Growing Up/Mother God,” finding faith in matriarchal love rather than the pulpit.

By showing off so many dimensions with so many clever turns of phrase, Hitchcock demonstrates his care in the artform better in just 10 tracks than many of his peers do in double that number. His versatility is also clearly displayed by the ease with which he asserts himself alongside such varied collaborators as 6lack, JID, and Young Nudy — all of whom also appeared on Revenge in different capacities. By putting so much thought, effort, and curation into not just each track but in the project as a whole, Deante lives up to its lofty title; it’s just better than so much of what else is currently available that there’s no doubt in my mind that he has the potential to one day reach that upper echelon currently occupied by his most conspicuous co-signer. The quality of Better suggests that the best is yet to come.

Better is out now on ByStorm Entertainment and RCA Records. Get it here.