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December 11, 2017

‘Godspeed’ is a journey into new musical territory for Amherst rapper NliteN

(Jong Man Kim/Daily Collegian)

An expression of goodwill and hope for a journey, “Godspeed” is a fitting title for Amherst artist NliteN’s first multi-track work. A four-track EP that comes on the heels of appearances at major shows, “Godspeed” functions as an announcement of new journeys for the artist.

The stage name of senior psychology and brain studies student Jordan Tolbert, NliteN has steadily grown a following over the past year, earning the opportunity to open for major acts like Wale, Mike Posner and FloRida. NliteN’s growing appeal can be attributed to his unique, urban sound, which Tolbert describes as being inspired by London hip-hop and the works of artists like Little Simz and Travis Scott.

“Godspeed” shares this unique sound, but takes it a step further. With beats that shift from sultry flamenco to raw electronics and even a whistling track that sounds like something out of the 50s, the EP pushes the sonic envelope.

This diverse sound is married through the rapper’s lyrics, which all relate to an unfamiliarity with newfound success. Navigating issues of ego and expectation, NliteN delves into his own music confidently and assertively, with searing deliveries that sound reminiscent of those of polished rappers; like those of Kendrick Lamar on his new album, “DAMN.,” for instance.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the EP’s first track, “Foreign.” It opens with a declaration of insecurity, “Are you sure Lite/Nah/Then it’s your life,” and continues from there. The verses are an internal dialogue contemplating the choices and opportunities that offer a path to a goal. But it is in the chorus where we see the first expression of god speed, where “now we finna levitate” asserts the artist’s rise to popularity. The backing track isn’t subtle either, with foreign flamenco and Spanish lyrics constantly present in the background.

“Godspeed” shifts hard from that point, exploding into the middle two songs, “Carrots” and “Shut Up.” Both dealing with ego and awareness, the two tracks flow seamlessly together, and send home a point about NliteN’s newfound success.

“You a kid and I’m a giant/Why you frontin’ stand behind” is the common refrain of “Carrots,” and it stays in your face throughout the song. Later, the song mysteriously fades out, only for NliteN to fire back in with “I ain’t done yet,” and restart the driving bass.

“Shut Up” maintains this intensity and pace, and makes it more personal. Part introspection and part projection, “Shut Up” is a call for awareness and an assertion of power. The verses are confident and steady, continuing the rhythm of “Carrots.”

The two tracks are also the most sonically avant-garde as well, ditching the melodies of “Foreign” for a rough, electronic and fuzzy bass beat. Crafted by partner and producer Al Danger, the tracks are very much an experiment and foray into a new sound that is unlike anything else the artist has produced.

NliteN rounds out “Godspeed” with “Please & Thank You,” another hard shift on the EP. A whimsical, 50s-style beat plays behind this, the EP’s outro, which is as well-mannered as its title suggests. “Hope that you’re listening now” is the key lyric on the track, a confident yet composed declaration. The track deflates the intensity of “Carrots” and “Shut Up,” but carries the same message: NliteN is here to stay.

“Godspeed,” released March 29, is in many ways not only the announcement of a new journey, but also an arrival. It is a clean, polished piece with a lot to say and it does that eloquently, and with a great deal of poise. While it struggles at times to be a smooth, consistent listening experience, the EP has a lot of boundaries to push both lyrically and sonically.

Dan Mahoney can be reached at dpmahoney@umass.edu.

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