Height with Friends
is a Baltimore-based rap-rock group, and the songwriting vehicle for prolific emcee Height. Since 2008, the band has played over 500 shows, and released 13 records, Rock and Roll
being the latest. While there’s certainly some cheekiness behind that album title (this ain’t rock ‘n roll in the literal sense), Height with Friends craft beats the old-fashioned way: with guitar, bass, and drums. And they’re simple beats, unattractive yet understated, fitting backdrops for Height’s wordplay, which is refreshingly direct and self-reflexive.
Opening track “I Can’t Stand to be Refused” is a never-say-die anthem for underground artists. Height openly admits defeat: “I had it all planned out/ throwing the grappling hook/ but how it all played out/ It’s not a happenin’ look.” As self-deprecating as that sounds, Height is still rapping, isn’t he? Maybe things haven’t turned out according to plan, but Rock and Roll shows him still carrying on and writing new music. On “Hard Work”, he takes us back to the moment when he realized the challenges of being a musician. “I was soon to find/ it’s not a bed of flowers/ to be on the grind,” he rhymes over the chord progression from Weezer’s “The Good Life”.
Height’s candor gives him an authoritative quality, but his sing-talk flow is rigid, and he tends to reuse the same rhyme scheme from song to song. Couple that with Rock and Roll’s minimalistic “live” beats, and the album grows repetitious in spots. Occasional tics (like the ominous whistling in “I Can’t Stop Eating Sugar”) help to distinguish certain tracks, though others (“Mustard Seed”, “Too Much Time”) come off as rehashes of “I Can’t Stand to be Refused”. But it’s Height’s message that matters, and he’s consistently dishing out poignant ruminations and tidbits of wisdom, even on weaker tracks.
Humble and self-aware, Height is a rare breed of rapper (especially in today’s egoist hip hop landscape). He might have a mic in his hand, but he never condescends or assumes a persona. He’s just a regular dude from Baltimore who arranges his thoughts as rhymes. Though flawed, Rock and Roll is a charming record about sticking it out despite the odds.
Essential Tracks: “I Can’t Stand to be Refused”