Wara from the NBHD, the righteously intense rapper and producer from Atlanta (via Brooklyn), does not step into the booth without a purpose. He’s a natural at social commentary; his 2014 album, Kidnapped, examines black-on-black crime, the surface appeal of drug dealing, and the zero-to-100 speed with which the streets can take a kid away from his family’s good intentions. With the seven-song If Guns Could Speak EP, Wara wastes no time bringing you into a world of shooters and victims, actions and consequences.
With the exception of the heavily processed singing on the unexpected love song “Cold-play”, Wara (the “NBHD” is pronounced “neighborhood”) accomplishes this even though (or maybe because) he raps so bluntly, giving you no choice but to digest every word. Besides guns, adjacent topics like drug dealing and robbery pop up because they’re so often inseparable from that main focus. On the opener, “Shotclock”, he reminds us that you don’t have to move that much weight to make more money than Obama. But mostly, Wara keeps his focus on violence, as “clips get changed more than the seasons” (“Trigger Happy”). Lyrically, the manic “Surrounded by Criminals” is the standout, with a dose of Wara’s dark humor: “Enough banana clips to transform the hood into apes/ And leave niggas in they prime,” he goes, the last word doubling as a grim shortening of “primate.”
Along with co-producer Henry Shoults, Wara has ditched the musical intricacy of Kidnapped (most notably the piano chords that symbolically followed its central character’s descent) in favor of a landscape full of thunderous, distorted guitar riffs that reflect the seriousness of his life-and-death subject matter. Though they’re probably less inviting for it, the beats align with Wara’s intent to put together a coherent package for each of his projects, which also extends to that ominous cover art. Kidnapped remains the best introduction to Wara’s artistry, but If Guns Could Speak is also impressive because it’s more thorough in its verses and choruses than the 25-minute length would seemingly allow, bringing gun violence to life in such detail that it can’t possibly sound glamorous.
Essential Tracks: “Shotclock”, “Surrounded by Criminals”