Sketch185's Album "He Left Nothing for the Swim Back" featured in The Arts Fuse
Each month, their arts critics — music, book, theater, dance, television, film, and visual arts — fire off a few brief reviews.
March Short Fuses — Materia Critica
Like many of his Backwoodz Studioz labelmates, SKECH 185 raps over beats that embrace disorientation rather than easy pleasure.
Within seconds, hip-hop artist SKECH185’s voice commands attention on his album He Left Nothing for the Swim Back. His intense flow leaves little space, allowing him to run through pages’ worth of lyrics in minutes. A former member of the Tomorrow Kids and War Church, his solo debut is entirely produced by Jeff Markey. Like many of his Backwoodz Studioz labelmates, SKECH 185 raps over beats that embrace disorientation rather than easy pleasure. Instead of simply serving as backing tracks, Markey’s music competes with the singer for attention. “The River” remains in unresolved suspension, with droning keyboards rumbling like a stalled train and scattering hi-hats. “Jay Street” samples free jazz squawks, while “Badly Drawn Hero” interpolates the Who’s “I Can See For Miles” into an anguished chorus. SKECH185 also riffs on Mobb Deep’s infinitely quoted “Shook Ones Pt. II.”
A literary impulse runs throughout the entire recording, but it’s best demonstrated on “East Side Summer.” The song turns to the subject of the singer’s youth in Chicago. While guests Jyroscope and Solar Five flesh out the song, SKECH185 describes witnessing a shooting as a 10-year-old. Without an ounce of sensationalism or bragging (“nothing cool about living through this/fuck how them songs sound!” is one of his verse’s final couplets), the track lays out the damage caused by growing up around violence: “My uncle got shot because that’s what happens to Uncles back then/Black Power devoured in the black steel in hour between street lights and mothers first scream.” The title track artfully disses Kylie Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad. The presence of so many guests contributes to one of the album’s few sources of warmth — a communitarian feel that doesn’t detract from SKECH185’s singular voice but enhances these songs’ storytelling power. Every note and word of He Left Nothing For the Swim Back trails years of experience.
— Steve Erickson
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