The titles and subtleties of Darren J. Cunningham’s bookend albums as Actress, Hazyville and Ghettoville, feel interchangeable and sisterly, as they should. The suffixes of their titles themselves imply enough tacit similarity, and although, sonically the two records sit on opposite pedestals of maturity, the differences in texture are just slight enough so that Ghettoville sounds like a complete deconstruction of its little sister, with its hazy, industrial gloom making for a perfect album sequence and correlation.
Although Cunningham has released two records in between, Splazsh and R.I.P., with tracks that feature similarly distinct wholeness laced with unique dance qualities, they are incomparable to the motionless production that encompasses Hazy and Ghetto. Needled with a few drone-toned R&B samples, “Contagious”, “Rap”, and “Rule” of Ghettoville are the artist’s first few tracks to feature almost intelligible lyrics. The bitterness of the album lends loneliness to the repeated, warmhearted line, “Wrap yourself around me,” on (deliberately?) ill-tited “Rap”. It feels oh so brittle, living up to his own estimation and intent: “as if you were an addict and you feel the world is crumbling around you.”
Considering potential downsides, the record stands decently by itself, but in no way akin to the power of the intermediate standalone albums; thus, Hazyville becomes necessary for a fuller appreciation of this release. There are tracks on each of the albums whose titles seem to belong to the other, or simple adjustments in texture and emotional tone that seem to lend themselves better to the other’s working title. For example, “Again the Addiction” on Hazyville exudes more “ghetto” connotation, and the romantically-tinged “Ivy May Gilpin”, “I Can’t Forgive You”, and “Green Gal” of Hazy would work interestingly alongside “Rap” or “Birdcage” of Ghetto.
With Ghettoville acting as the apparent conclusion to the Actress project heading, the storytelling elements of Hazy and Ghetto (alongside breakout works of Splazsh and R.I.P) don’t add up for a satisfying end to Cunningham as an artist. Although the young British beat-maker hints at musical depression with “zero satisfaction, no teeth, pseudo artists running rampant,” Actress may eventually find rebirth, or better yet, reincarnation, as the sentimentally shattering Hazy and Ghetto feel like suspensions in a temporary world.
Essential Tracks: “Corner”, “Rap”, and “Rule”