Boy, these MellowHigh lads reeeally love their green stuff. They’re not coy about it either. You can’t go 30 seconds on their self-titled debut proper without them making references or just flat-out discussing their cannabinoid fixation; it roughly translates to sheer obsession. When they’re not getting high, or more precisely, when they’re not just getting high, MellowHigh make music. The hip-hop trio of Domo Genesis, Left Brain and Hodgy Beats (the latter two being MellowHype) formed in 2011, and are all members of the Californian rap maniacs OFWGKTA, which probably explains a lot. Also, it sets the bar pretty high – if there’s one horse to bet on in the hip-hop race, it’s Tyler’s bunch of miscreant wordsmiths.
Their long-awaited first full-length opens with “Goon’n”, an effort with cyber-trap production courtesy of the inimitable Left Brain. It’s a skewed barrage of icy psycho synth shards, more gunshots than a warzone and self-aggrandising tirades; it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s fun nonetheless. Sort of: “I’m just young/ I got ALL the bitches/ All… everything you don’t have…” is a particular highlight of the mid-track breakdown where Domo and Hodgy just talk over each other. Shakespeare, it is not. “Cigarillo”‘s similar : a vainglorious 4:27 that meanders between the two rappers just chatting over each other and a few lines about smoking weed. Eventually they just slip into talking about… well, nothing. It’s incredibly self-indulgent and any producer/editor worth their salt would’ve trimmed it from the LP. Perhaps it’s worth noting that it’s Hodgy, not Left Brain, on production duties – the only time the reins are relinquished.
It’s not all bad news though. “Yu”, despite being shrouded in a purple haze, features sublime ’70s soul instrumentation and truly strong knob-twiddling skills from Left Brain. The piano riffs rekindle memories of OFWGKTA’s dear leader Tyler, The Creator, and his recent dour introspection exploration, Wolf. Funnily enough, Tyler himself features on a remix, also featured on MellowHigh. It may be an ode to their own clique, but it’s oddly infectious, and the two flow-peddler’s vocal rhythms are glorious. “Extinguisher”, with ’90s hip-hop synths (is it a House Of Pain sample?) is a highlight of the record. Hodgy and Domo’s spiels are fluid, fascinating and exemplary of exactly why we need MellowHigh in our lives.
There’s good, there’s… less good… and there’s downright strange. On “Roofless”, the threesome channel Lil Jon and Nicki Minaj for a “Come On A Cone”-esque swarm of jittery fuzz arpeggios and the occasional jarring squawk, much like Lil Jon. Also featured, tasteful vernacular: “If you do not give a fuck/ punch that nigga in his face/ now stomp that nigga/ now stomp that nigga on the floor.” Though some of the phrases on this record are sublime lyrical flourishes, they blunt the effects by lobbing utter tripe like this into the fray. It’s a shame to waste the beat, as Left Brain has outdone himself with cello stabs and fresh percussive constructions, but it becomes an awkward listen rapidly.
MellowHigh is rife with peaks and valleys; sometimes, you’ll pray for it to end, in other moments, you’ll wish they’d hurry up for LP numero dos. The overall result is something that painfully needed some outside influences, perhaps another producer to steer them in a worthwhile direction – it’s an aimless, winding record that occasionally stumbles upon greatness, but with the amount of mediocrity, you can’t help feel that the high points are mere accidents. MellowHigh are like Adam Sandler. You give them a load of money to make something, and they end up just dicking around with their mates, releasing something that’ll make money, but is ultimately disappointing (see Grown Ups 1 & 2 for a visual reference).