Bar Exam: Ian Kenville – 1997 (One Listen Review)

A One Listen Album Review

Ian Kenville fka Arson Child just dropped his first album under the new name today. We’ve been anticipating Ian’s album for a minute in these parts, as he spoke with us about the creation of it not so long ago. The album sits at thirty two minutes for ten tracks and seems to have some dope features. I’m eager to get my ears on this.

For those of you unfamiliar with my bar exams, I am sharing all of my notes from my true first listen to the project. I provide in-depth thoughts and commentary on anything from flows, rhymes, beats, creative direction, track placement, and concepts.

Hermione Granger – Chimes bring us into a fast paced flow. It’s interesting how the beat changes up as the song moves on, but it’s less like a locomotive taking off that gains momentum, and more like that trip to the grocery store where you hit every single red light. Nonetheless, Ian does well at rolling with the punches. He changes his delivery ever so slightly in the middle of the verses, giving pause so as to help the listener marinate on the words he’s speaking. Topically it seems like Ian is fighting against negative self-talk, the perceptions that people put on him, and his own hypocrisy. Through all of this, he knows he’s got the drive (or magic) inside of him. He’s just gotta believe it.

“Running off connections/Hope I had impressions/Ian such a failure but I had great intentions/Cussed out in the mentions maybe I’m goin insane/All of these thoughts in my brain/Can’t get it onto the page/One minute I’m full of rage then I just go and I pray/Keep it 100 on stage then I go spazz man I’m fake”

Welcome To The Jungle – It’s pretty etherial here at the top, with a jungle-like sample that loops at opportune times throughout the track. Again it’s a pretty laid back track here, and Ian is spitting from the diaphragm. The easy music bed definitely enhances what he’s doing on the mic, and what he’s doing is nice. I’m just not sure I’m married to these choices in beats. The Hook on this track doesn’t feel tightly connected to the rest of the song, and again I just wish there was another level to attain here musically. This last verse from Tremain Elliott is tremendous. No lyrics wasted so far.

On Ten – A piano loop takes us into “On Ten.” Ian jumps in with a pause heavy flow that carries into the hook. Xay Hill takes the second verse. Everything sounds nice. There’s a lot of elements to this instrumental, but they all work hand in hand to give a nice bed to the performances. The beat switches up with about a minute left in the song, and then just rides out. I didn’t feel like that move had enough power to it in order to need to last so long, it would have helped pacing here if this song were shorter.

80’s Girl – I think this is a love song. Ian is looking for a ride-or-die type of person to be by his side. I am not connecting with the significance of 80’s girl. Trying to follow, but if Ian was born in 1997 he’s actually just looking for a cougar.

“I just want an 80’s girl/I’m living in a crazy world/They say times don’t change so just tell me that you’re in it for the love and the 808s”

I like that last line in the hook, I think it’s clever. This song is the first one that made me want to hit the skip button though.

Broke – There’s some straight up hip hop on this project, and Ian is RAPPIN rappin. This is breathing from the diaphragm stuff, and while I think I actually heard him run out of breath at one point this flow is hot. The vibe of the hook, the layers that are added and pulled away in the instrumental, and the feature all make this a solid song.

Joven – Joven is Spanish for “Youth.” The vibe here feels like summer, and Ian shares about the way the younger generation is counted out and overlooked. It feels really good, definitely a track I will return to. I got hung up on one line here though – “got no time for females”… Maybe I really didn’t understand the meaning behind 80’s Girl.

Eighty Five – This track begins on that mafioso tip, and Ian comes at the beat with a triplet flow. Oh and he just keeps going. Shiwan tags in for a crazy second verse. This song is off the hook.

Waves – Ian seems to be a bit of an old soul. The way he comes at a track and the choices he makes when it comes to flow, take me back to some emcees I listened to back in the day. The hook on this one is very strong. The vocals from Jenna Renae are crisp and clean, and the melody here fits with the vibe of everything else. These four songs in a row are terrific. We’ve really hit full stride here in the back half of the album.

1997 – I love how we were hitting on similar textures in the previous songs, and now this track has an unorthodox pace to it. As a listener it’s great to be surprised sometimes, and I think this was a good way to do it. Ian is reminiscing on his life, talking about his upbringing along with mistakes. A good switch.

100K – The last track is full of melodic flows. It feels nice, but I feel like there’s another level we could take it to. The beat stays even throughout, and there’s no extra umph to the vocals like there could be.

“Used to think that music would just change my everything/Now I think the journey may just really be the dream/I be gettin’ nervous so I’m rollin with my team/Get so sick and tired of hearing who I shouldn’t be”

As a final thought, this is actually a solid and strong outing here from Ian Kenville. I feel like we stumbled around in the first half of the album, but this back half made it all worth it. I know three of these track near the end were released as singles, so it was a unique choice to not have at least one of those near the front. I really think the listening experience for this whole album would have changed if the order were different. Flow between songs and how they hand off to each other is important. The thing is that I listened to it in the order that was given and it was still good. However, the goal is always to be better.

Overall Rating – At The Bar

What do you think? Listen to 1997 here: