New Jersey rapper Deathirl makes a bid for the experimental hip-hop pantheon with their new six track EP Fresh Flowers for Ill Fruit, a project just as great as their last, Death In Real Life, but in totally different ways. Deathirl often seems willing to allow their collaborators to dictate the style and tone of the music they make together, with this project sounding a world away from the aggressive, ear-shaking trap beats and guitar riffs Ada Rook provided them with. The production does steal the show, with executive producer Chloe Hotline marshaling instrumentals from The Outbreakz, Darias Lanham and previous Deathirl collaborator titmouse.
Though equally left field and gritty, here the tracks sound like experimental hip-hop more in the vein of Armand Hammer or Earl Sweatshirt, with the opening track finding Deathirl rapping over a jazzy instrumental by The Outbreakz that could fit snugly into The Alchemist’s catalogue, with kick drums so soft they sound like a heartbeat. “Summertime” goes even further with the understatement. The track has no drums whatsoever, with a sinister titmouse beat constructed solely of a series of twinkling classical arpeggios and jingling bells and a funereal outro that matches the images of antiquity on the album’s cover. It’s the kind of beat one could well imagine a member of the Griselda crew sliding over and Deathirl’s crime talk here is very much in their lane, delivering elegantly constructed bars like, “I dot my eyes and dash my tees when I communicate with thieves”. The creakily tittering ad-libs on the second verse are also just pure Conway.
The beat for “Fresh Flowers” kind of blows my mind with a series of slowly chopped and reversed summery and soulful samples, including a shrill off-key wail that makes your hair stand on end and sounds like something you’d hear when a character in a horror movie decides to play their record backwards. “Cloudy Day in London” bears a dramatic vintage sample that sounds chopped from an old Hollywood epic film score and the closing track “Ill Fruit” has a playful southern twang that sounds like it’s coming from a jaws harp that plays beautifully off the track’s dusty drums. Throughout, Deathirl’s vocals are recorded at a lower fidelity than the instrumentals, matching his muted delivery and tone and giving the whole album a careworn, tactile quality.
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Deathirl’s lyricism on these tracks is hardly to be underappreciated though, delivering revolutionary messages with poetic and subtle wordplay like “they rape minds to make a pawn [porn]”, painting a eulogistic portrait of a life in which death is an ever-present reality and upon which it has left an indelible mark. Even after multiple listens I still feel like there’s more to digest to these sentiments and even more behind the imagery used to convey them. I can only expect my appreciation for these tracks to grow the more I return to them. From the first listen though the emotions of the track “Pride” hit you immediately, with Deathirl painting a mournful and melancholy picture of death and helplessness resolving in a cautiously optimistic note and a resolution to ‘find a better way’. His ruminations on death of his father on “Fresh Flowers” are in a similar lane, using flowers as a metaphor for life and death equally, placing his personal reflections in a commendably broad context.
On the track “Ill Fruit”, naming no names Deathirl expresses their concerned consternation at so many rappers who seem so consistently burned out by the chore of performing and recording, passing sly digs at combative rappers who seem to actively dislike their vocation and just do it for the money. The sentiment could easily have seemed pretentious—after all, it’s easy to say ‘it’s supposed to be about the music not the money’—but Deathirl’s delivery comes off so genuine and warm on this track that it doesn’t feel that way at all. All jobs are hard, but few seem more blessed than those who have succeeded in making a lasting career off their art, especially where so many other artists struggle to find an audience or even a living wage.
Aside from the producers, the album’s sole guest feature comes in the form of the extended Censored Dialogue verse that makes up the majority of “A Cloudy Day in London”. I might have liked to have heard more back and forth between the two or maybe just heard how Deathirl would have sounded on this instrumental now that the idea is in my head, but there’s no denying the quality of Censored Dialogue’s performance, which fits perfectly into the track-list. Though Fresh Flowers for Ill Fruit represents a significant gear change from what we’ve previously heard from Deathirl, they seem unfazed by the change-up in performance and writing style, sounding exactly as confident in this lane as they did on Death in Real Life. Though perhaps the sound on offer here isn’t as distinctive as on their previous project this year, which presented a unique combination of influences quite unlike anything else, the more tasteful and funereal backdrop here allows them to display themselves in a fresh and melancholic context.