By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
Sometimes you hear an album that you just have to talk about. Numerous albums have done that this year for me; after all, being an active music listener means you’ll eventually come up on something that deserves discussion. While I (obviously) haven’t talked much about music this past year, having the incredible opportunity to preview great music is always a treat. Especially if it’s a one-of-a-kind record that comes from the New Jersey lyricist, Graceful Anon.
Anon’s latest project, the 8-track Inshallah, is that kind of musical experience. One that you truly remember, savoring every second of incredible rapping performances, clever wordplay, and interesting instrumental textures that show Anon is willing to experiment and challenge himself, as well as grab a listener’s attention. I can’t help but reflect on every listen as Anon dissects artistry, love, and even his own identity in a concise 8-track package that numerous other artists would bloat in a 20+ song album.
Not here though. GF Anon is built different, so let’s dive into why Inshallah is such a breath of fresh air as 2021 comes to a close.
If Inshallah could be compared to a sword, it would be razor sharp, honed to a point that could split a boulder in two, Zoro-style. The tracklist is short, running a little over twenty minutes at a breakneck pace that still finds time to be beautiful and meditative. From the moment that the atmospheric “Loading…” begins, lo-fi jazz pours over the mix like water as Anon announces his own worldly knowledge and blessings. I’m a sucker for albums beginning with a tape being popped in, but this track remains a great example of how Anon and the production thicken the atmosphere and get you hungry for more. As the chanting vocals and bells ring in the proper intro “Inshallah,” the feast has begun. In all honesty, this might be a contender for my favorite track Anon has put out: it’s cinematic, threatening, and absolutely nasty with wordplay. As Anon announces his takeover, surpassing opponents that choose to act wild or crazy for attention, that very conviction hits your veins. This is the song you listen to before heading into the boxing ring, ready to land a haymaker on an opponent that continues to doubt you. In general, Anon seems more confident and in-your-face in this album, focusing on identity and his grind in a way that seems very real. In a nice twist, he doesn’t just keep it two-dimensional: his mindset and his motivation are intrinsically tied with his faith and his very being, and his confidence allows that to be laid throughout the record. “God Don’t Like Ugly” is one of his most confident joints yet, but Anon doesn’t sacrifice his intelligent writing as he raps about wanting to be the hero and outlasting the “crabs in the barrel,” a potent line that very much displays his drive to surpass those who may be trapped. One of Anon’s most unique traits in general, and especially on Inshallah, is his balance of abstract and direct songwriting: sure, you can gauge that Anon is out to be the best, but different references to surpassing idols and his icy wardrobe paint a multicolored character portrait over a great boom-bap beat. We may never know who may be trapped in this barrel: is it the greedy or lazy? We may never know, but the open-endedness will leave listeners with food for thought.
Speaking on Inshallah’s beats, the selection here is stellar. The production is very much in the house of grimy East Coast underground, loaded with pretty samples and nasty drums, but there’s an eerie beauty and grandeur to it that works in an interesting way. Every note not only succeeds on its own, but as a backdrop to what Anon says on the mic. The ice cold keys and heavy bass make for a beautiful accompaniment to “Letter to Gaia,” one of Anon’s most quiet and thoughtfully written tracks. From what I’ve interpreted, I view it as an ode to someone special, with vignettes of love being interlaced with comparisons to the earth itself (aka, Gaia). The beat on “All Praises,” by comparison, is ROYALTY: regal horns, marching drums and scattered vocal samples almost seem to announce Anon’s arrival to the throne room of rap. It’s fitting, then, that he takes his time on this song to seemingly embrace both his own strength and the strength granted from higher powers.
The theme of religion is scattered throughout this album in general: while it isn’t fully conceptual, per se, it adds a unique flavor to what Anon does from start to finish. The project’s sequencing is great, filling the listener with incredible highs, moody lows, and head-bobbing middles. “Esau vs. Jacob,” a song that sounds like it could have fit snugly on Canvas of a Radiant Child with its guitar licks and slower pace, is a track covering a metric ton of subjects with great efficiency: violence, groupthink, overcoming trauma are just a sampler. Anon’s flow is at its peak here, weaving rhymes and syllables together in a beautiful web of worldly knowledge and motivation. As Anon proclaims “Have my jersey hang in the rafters, that’s the goal,” you instantly crave the same thing. Anon is great at making you want to get off your ass and do something with your life, and very little hip-hop in 2021 made me feel this way.
As the album hits its sequencing climax, it’s only natural that the emotions hit their peak on “Completion.” This song, which I’ve interpreted as a self-analysis of Anon’s perfectionist nature and his goal to succeed at any means necessary, is damn beautiful. I feel every ounce of Anon’s heart and soul in his delivery and songwriting, a truly inspiring moment that is only further accentuated by a winding beat of tinny drums, slinking bass, and childlike tones ringing out against a wintry backdrop. This is a gorgeous song, one of Anon’s best…and he even throws in a beat switch at the end! Even as you leave the table, stuffed from fantastic rhymes and beats, Anon feeds the listener even more with “94 Conclusion,” a bonus track that exemplifies all of Inshallah’s strengths in a bite-sized package: a great sound, great rhymes, and a flow that is smooth as butter. While Inshallah may be brief, it’s as hard hitting as any record you may hear this year.
To be truthful, this year in particular has been tough to write about. Not necessarily because 2021’s music has been lacking, but because there’s only so many ways to say an album is good. Well, if Inshallah is anything to go by, there is still a need to discuss some of music’s most creative efforts. Inshallah is a project I wholeheartedly loved from front to back. It’s an abstract, hard-hitting, and well thought album that bleeds passion and grit in every second of its runtime, and I hope I was able to convey that well enough to whoever may give the album a shot when it drops December 30th. I already know I’m buying it, and I think you won’t regret it too. With a choice selection of elite rhymes, amazing beats, and a unique spin on faith and identity, Inshallah will make any music fan happy.
Special thanks to Graceful Anon and all personnel involved in this project for this wonderful early holiday gift. Be sure to check out Inshallah TOMORROW when it releases, and here’s to a great 2022!
Best Tracks: NO SKIPS, LISTEN TO THIS ALBUM