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Le1f - Fly Zone

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Artist: Le1f

Album: Fly Zone

Label: self-released

Review date: Mar. 12, 2013

Fly Zone lacks the "Wut" and the WTF that made Le1fís debut mixtape such a slap on the cheek. The goofy brass and reeds on that breakout single wasnít the only daisy-age arrangement on Dark York, nor was it the only song that was blunt about the rapperís sexuality. "Lavandin" was a tour of his shelf full of essential oils, potions from the co-op that keep the boys coming back, with psychedelic chimes swirling behind him. The tape didnít seem to get an objective preview from anyone who could have gotten the levels straightened out, and the whole thing descended into a cock-eyed murk that ended up making perfect sense for a rapper who was reorienting the macho gloss of everyday hip hop.

This followup doesnít try to repeat those accidents-on-purpose. Here, in the standout line on the standout track, ďAirbending,Ē he announces ďI am whatever you say I am. / Stop worrying about how gay I am," and thatís pretty much the only time he brings up the topic overtly. Itís delivered as the beat shifts after a torrent of rapid-fire rhymes, downshifting from a techno 4/4, just briefly, to something more old-school. The track starts with a prelude of echoing, irregular growls, and there are lots of ominous tones like that. Fly Zone has a far more cohesive sound than Dark York, which is surprising given that every track features a different producer.

Given Le1fís gift for waggish rhymes, itís not even apparent what that cohesive style is at first. But if you dropped out his vocals from "Breezy" and "Psy Lock,Ē and dropped in a Britsoul gal like Cooly G, the result would be a pair of pleading U.K. club ballads. This becomes more obvious by the end of the tape, where "Autopilot" finds him trading off with the singer SAFE, whoís got such a similar tone to his voice, youíd swear Le1f is slipping into balladry himself. The pensive synths make for a downbeat jam. Even when things are moving quicker, like on "Spa Day,Ē thereís an early dubstep creep-crawling to the groove. The backing is menacing enough that its ode to bathhouse pleasure isnít immediately apparent. Even with the "ooh la la, mazal tov" refrain, itís more heavy leering than a wink.

The only time he doesnít bury the camp comes when Kitty Pryde shows up on "Pocahontas,Ē where they create the aural equivalent of a desecrated Disney princess GIF, as befits Kittyís Tumblr roots. Fly Zone is more an exercise in demonstrating his differences rather than talking about them. "Tha Whip" brings in Hallek Maul to give a street-view rap that shows just how much Le1f doesnít even try to play that game. He subverts the street talk fully on "CoinsĒ; the gangsta boasts arenít about settling scores so much as his Nintendo scores. With the production cleaned up, itís suddenly apparent how much he uses vocal fry. If that buzzing affect makes Tridelt sistersí voices unbearable, itís a completely different beast in his baritone, a display of slack confidence. On "Coins" he goes nuts with the frizzled larynx for a verse, a dose of temporary insanity that contrasts with the complete control elsewhere on Fly Zone.

And thatís what this record is about: control. Le1f got folks attention last year, and doesnít care about keeping it. But itís worth your time to follow him through these grayer back alleys. Once you get your bearings, youíll wonder where heís going next.

By Ben Donnelly

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