It’s hard to make something complex sound easy. A specific mindset in many musicians prioritizes the single take, the beat banged out in fifteen minutes, the ability to knock down half a mixtape in a night. YouTube series, like Mass Appeal’s Rhythm Roulette, Kenny Beats’ The Cave, and FACT Magazine’s Against the Clock all present the challenge of coming up with something dope in a matter of minutes. It’s a wonderful concept that sometimes yields genuinely dope results, though mostly it’s just a fun way to engage with an artist’s process. The conceit is that these artists operate at an acute level of instinct—they know their own process and musical vocabulary so well that a spark of creativity can lead to magic within moments. That instinctual feeling is key to Imaginary Everything, the deceptively effortless new album from Nashville multi-instrumentalist and rapper Namir Blade and North Carolina producer L’Orange.
At first glance, the record plays like a worthy entry into the distinct new wave of bubbly, psychedelic Southern boom bap, sitting comfortably alongside records from Richmond’s Mutant Academy or Atlanta’s Spillage Village. The tempos are a bit quicker than their snow-trudging Buffalo contemporaries and the drums crisper than Roc Marciano’s laconic loops; the overall vibe feels humid and convivial. Namir Blade’s elastic personality and L’Orange’s keen melodic sense find sly new ways to present themselves across Imaginary Everything, making for an exceedingly buoyant album. When drilling into the details, it’s apparent that this isn’t a tossed-off, jam-for-the-fuck-of-it collection. Rather, the effortlessness that makes the record so breezy is the level of comfort the artists have in their own towering skill levels.
Namir Blade burst into the wider rap landscape fully-formed with 2020’s Aphelion’s Traveling Circus, an entirely self-produced sci-fi themed opus. Its musical scope was kaleidoscopic, bursting at the seams with Namir’s seemingly boundless creativity. His writing was colorful and replete with vibrant imagery, the flows moving from dazzling double time to melodic crooning. Everything about that album felt fully lived in—it felt like a record made deep into an already very exploratory career. On Imaginary Everything, he gives up the production reins, allowing himself the space to dive deeper into his surrealistic writing and vocal acrobatics. He has what so many rappers forget to emphasize: presence.
Take “Nihilism” for example: Blade’s vocals move from whisper-calm to excited shouting during the verses while the hooks feature whole-note word extensions and Frank Ocean-like pitch flourishes all while stringing together disparate imagery of using a paper lantern as a getaway car and relaxing on a beach with a summer shandy. Later, on “Corner Store Scandal,” Blade deploys the staccato flow endemic to so much rap music from his home state of Tennessee, weaving together references to Crash Bandicoot, Slitheryn, and Home Alone. In the first verse of “Late Nights, Early Mornings,” he sleepily pines for “an Eggs Benedict with no onions” before proclaiming cops to be akin to ghost hunters in a flow that’s behind the beat just enough to give the song’s groove some extra oomph.
While his thoughts go everywhere all at once, there isn’t a moment that feels forced or stretched thin. By the time the record reaches “I Can Change,” its penultimate track, Namir has masterfully employed so many different styles that it doesn’t feel surprising at all to hear him sing the whole song rather than rap. It’s clear throughout that he trusts his instincts and therefore sounds like he’s having an absolute blast figuring out new ways to float over L’Orange’s production.
For his part, L’Orange crafts some of his most playful beats to date. These aren’t the brooding grayscale tracks he makes for Jeremiah Jae, nor are they the groove-first neck snappers found on the two Marlowe records. On Imaginary Everything, the beats burst with color, infused with a sharp sense of melody. He’s always been a tuneful producer with widescreen sensibilities, having come up under the tutelage of the Wilmington, NC hip hop scene, a small but vibrant community of acts like Haji P and MindsOne (which includes his mentor, KON Sci) that emphasized a connection between the melodic and the cosmic. Here, his work leans into those ideas even more heavily than usual, bringing together elements of Southern funk, blues, and a little bit of gospel.
As with Namir’s work across the album, L’Orange’s power lies in the small details present throughout. Bottle-clinking sounds and handclaps in “Late Nights, Early Mornings” give the song a feeling of having been recorded on someone’s porch on a warm summer evening. The snaking melodic bass guitar of “Gassed Up” punctuated by a simple kick, snare drum pattern feels like the opening credits of a 70’s heist film. “Murphy’s Law” features an almost RZA-like drum chop that gathers like storm clouds, releasing into the distorted guitar torrent of the chorus. All of L’Orange’s arrangements create a structure of tension and release that take the songs into unexpected territories, propelling them forward, pulling them back. It’s an approach that nods to the same influences as the current crop of loop-digging boom bap, but sets itself apart by being a bit more musically adventurous.
Unlike Namir Blade’s previous project and most of L’Orange’s work, Imaginary Everything isn’t tied together through some unifying, high-minded concept. It’s a record that touches on a great number of ideas from media consumption to police brutality to just being a good ass rapper. Most of all, it’s a record about trusting one’s instincts, about allowing oneself the space to do and say what feels good in the moment. In that sense, it’s a record about freedom, artistic and otherwise. Because they’ve allowed themselves to operate with the freedom serious self-confidence brings, L’Orange and Namir Blade have made one of the best, most eminently listenable albums of the year.