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Collaboration is nothing without chemistry. It’s why when a superstar athlete joins a new team, critics question if success will be attained or things will crumble into failure. When a group effort sees each member recognizing and making up for one another’s weaknesses, more times than not, art in its most beautiful form arrives, leaving its consumers to stand starry-eyed to take in the new experience. Elsewhere, doubters rush to eat their words in an attempt to hide them and avoid having to own up to their wrongs. It’s this excellent chemistry in collaboration that lives on Van Buren Records’ debut album, Bad For Press.
The thirteen-track effort compiles some of the best hip-hop talents Massachusetts has to offer. The heavy-muscled collective includes names like Luke Bars and Saint Lyor, who both caught attention in 2020 for their respective GoodEvil and If My Sins Could Talk. Jiles is the epitome of a flower blooming in a dark room, as his sinister verses both rattle and enthrall listeners. Meech, Andrew Regis, and Lord Felix punch jaws and dizzy minds with their bars while Ricky Felix and Kiron create the ideal landscape for the rappers to go berzerk in.
Bad For Press arrives with a “yeah, so what?” sneer from the Van Buren collective. Suits & ties with smiles never fit the group’s desired aesthetic like a mean mug and slight tilt of the head do. Just two songs into the project, “Braindead” captures the groups overwhelming audacity towards anything that steps before them. Lyor’s straight-faced hook delivers a message within the words that menacingly leave his mouth: this is not a group you want to spar with. Similar sentiments arrive on “Medic,” a song that sonically warns of impending danger all for the Van Buren rappers to be the individuals to make these fears a reality.
On the album, individual egos aren’t left outside the door, rather, they’re combined into some supernatural force that entwines itself with the words the group raps throughout the albums. So when songs like “It Is What It Is” or “No Interview” pierce through your headphones, it’s a huge disservice to ignore the talent, energy, and persona that are packaged into what is the Van Buren collective. Both tracks encapsulate the rambunctious energy the group would present onstage in a perfect pandemic-less world, but simply hearing them rapping their asses off makes this impending moment all that more desirable.
Despite the strong-armed reinforcement Van Buren delivers on the album, there are moments where the aggression is replaced with reflection and an effort to look into the past and see how far they’ve made it. “Looking For Trouble” opens the memories of their turbulent youth that Lyor describes best, rapping, “I be looking for trouble, I had nothing else to do.” Luckily for them, things have changed for the better. Van Buren also documents their struggle to thaw their cold hearts to receive the warmth of love on “Nevermind” while “Outro” is a smooth landing that ties an elegant bow around the wild ride Bad For Press is. In letting their guard down for a few moments, Van Buren effectively proves why it was up in the first place.
Bad For Press could be dissected in many ways. You could focus on individual talents and applaud Bars’ show-stealing verse to close “Gangbanger (Remix)” or Andrew Regis’ knife-wielding bars on “Medic.” There’s Meech’s slick-talk over Ricky Felix’s best-produced song with “No Interviews” and Jiles’ cutthroat contribution to “Braindead.” Not to mention Lyor’s honest tales on “Looking For Trouble” as well. However, this approach overlooks and diminishes the best thing about Van Buren: the fact that these individual qualities, which vary in presence and effectiveness on each song, contribute to the gleaming pot of gold that represents the Massachusetts rappers and all their glory. If Van Buren thinks they’re Bad For Press so be it, we could use more artists who embrace going against the grain.
Bad For Press is out now via Van Buren Records. Get it here.