Kanye West’s G.O.O.D Music label house some of the music industry’s most creative individuals, but it also is one of the most widely inconsistent in terms of quality. For every quality Pusha T release, there is a Big Sean or Kid Cudi album that makes you question what West was thinking when he signed them. But that’s kind of the appeal for a label like G.O.O.D Music; while the music might be inconsistent, at least the artists are willing to take a risk.
That’s why it wasn’t a shock when West signed Chicago rapper Hollywood Holt to the label last year. Holt’s interesting blend of post-punk and rap was definitely a departure from the usual G.O.O.D Music sound and seemed to offer up the promise of another exciting new voice. But now a year later, and Holt’s debut album under the pseudonym HXLT is released and it seems that the promise of originality has fallen short as HXLT is just another release in G.O.O.D Music’s interesting but ultimately flawed catalogue.
The most striking thing about HXLT is its sound, which Holt’s manager described as, “somewhere between Joy Division, The Strokes and Dr. Dre”. The album moves from moments that would sound not of place on an East Coast rap track to a more traditional rock and punk sound. All but one of the tracks here was produced by Holt, who blends all of his influences in a way that highlights the strengths of each.
But while I admire his attempt to try something new, I can’t say it makes for a particularly enjoyable listening experience. Tracks like ‘Rock N Roll’ and ‘Work It Out’ sound like lazier versions of Blink-182 and LCD Soundsystem songs respectively. And album opener ‘Reaper’ borrows the refrain and chorus from Blue Oyster Cults ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ to an unintentionally humorous effect.
If there is one highlight to the album’s sound, it’s ‘Sick’ which sounds like something that would be blasting out of the basement of a punk house show. Yet the album’s biggest offender, the lyrics, weighs down even that brief highlight. Holt certainly has a voice and in a few select moments, like on ‘Sick’ and ‘Tonight (Monster Ballad)’, you can start to hear the passion in his words. But when you really start to delve into what Holt is saying, it becomes clear that he doesn’t have much substance.
Holt speaks on many topics on HXLT from love to self-doubt and manages to say not one unique word on any of them. Whether it’s mumbling through the “All I wanted to be was perfect” mantra on ‘Perfect’ or the laughable “I wanna ride a motorbike” line on ‘Rock N Roll’, Holt strives to be taken seriously, but he can’t find the right words to make us believe it.
I keep returning to the song ‘Why’, a simple guitar and drum jam that sounds cut from The xx’s first album. On it, Holt sings that, “I know that I can be better,” and on some moments during HXLT you get that feeling that maybe Holt could on his next project. But what we have now is just a hollow shell of something that could have been great. What could have been a unique debut for a new voice, is instead an all-too-similar G.O.O.D Music release that fails to live up to the expectations.