If sincerity is making a comeback, Slyrex is ahead of the curve. On his sophomore release, the Oklahoma City hip-hop artist delivers vulnerable lines about love, life, and labor. His sound is at once moody, reflective, and aspirational. Despite the wide scope of his subjects, what keeps This Fragile Life cohesive is his singular perspective, which sees everything as branches of the same tree. Love is life, life is labor, and labor is love.
Characterized by spacious, low-key beats, Slyrex’s latest effort fills headphones with a dusky, smoky atmosphere. At times, the music embodies the alluring gloom of modern alternative R&B, but the vocal performances give the music a more cerebral angle to the album. Slyrex doesn’t seduce; he reasons.
There are a number of songs dedicated to romantic love, but they aren’t preoccupied with the club or the bedroom. “Forever” proclaims “All I know is that without you / I don’t feel so much / Your electric touch / I see a world on fire / But every color shines brighter.” Album opener “I Want You,” meanwhile, drills home the line “I’ve never been so sure in my life.”
As if this weren’t enough to buck the trend of describing romantic interests by their body parts, there is one key factor that adds further dimension to these moments. It becomes increasingly clear over the course of the record that the girl receiving these declarations of love has already broken up with the narrator after years of being together. His hope for a reunion persists for a while, but the last two tracks show him finally working through the reality that she’s moved on. The poignancy is heartbreaking.
This Fragile Life does not linger exclusively with love and loss, however, as album highlight “Dream$” sees Slyrex with money on his mind. At first, it seems like a rap cliché, but there is a key difference here–he refers to it as “the” money, not his money. This isn’t about bankrolling and expounding on the pros (or cons) of living the high life. Rather, it shows him tired of his “broke boy problems” that spur many in his situation to delve into drug dealing.
This track seems like a sequel to the livid “Rich” from his first album, which had the same general premise. It dropped a fiery series of truth bombs that leaves little more to be said on “Dream$.” What the new track lacks in fresh material, however, it makes up in musical range. A smooth feature from Indiana-based collaborator Spazzy D is pitched down part way through as the sparse beat slows to a trudge. This change sets up and enhances Slyrex’s most rapidfire moment on the album, wherein he states “I’m gonna kill it till I’m in the pine or the mother streets.”
Taken as a whole, This Fragile Life is more focused and finessed than the 20-year-old rapper’s debut, 2015’s Searching for Daisy. That full-length was ambitious, working a high-minded take on The Great Gatsby into a concept album. Despite great lyrical content and even a track produced by Clams Casino, it was hindered somewhat by splintered artistic direction and a distracting amount of off-key singing (though he did at least acknowledge the latter in the middle of one of his choruses).
On This Fragile Life, it sounds like he has used some vocal correction, which makes the right call on trading raw, authentic singing for a better overall recording. The beats have been better devised, too. Despite the LP having a credit list of producers just as diverse as its predecessor, everyone seems to be on the same page as to how the album should sound. If anything stands in the way of the listening experience, it’s the pesky audio watermarks. Admittedly, this sort of thing comes with the territory, but someone could at least tell producer Clever to rein it in some.
The album’s nine tracks add up to a tight half hour, and it’s a good sign that it could have run longer without overstaying its welcome. When the beautifully penned “Memory” closes out the record, it’s a bit jarring just how quickly it wraps up. It ends as if it’s about to lead into track 10, but instead, there is silence. Perhaps it’s intentional, but it does definitely leave the listener wanting more.
There was some talk at one point that this second album would progress from The Great Gatsby to The Iliad, but the decision to forego the thematic arc and nail down the essentials appears to be the right one. This is not only an important entry in Slyrex’s blossoming catalogue, but it is also an exceptional contribution to the ever-changing landscape of hip-hop itself.
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.
aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.