Bar Exam: Xay Hill – Red Ranger 3 (Mixtape)
A One Listen Review
Xay Hill’s third installment of “The Red Ranger” series drops Friday. He was generous enough to send it to me early. I put it through the bar exam below.
My Bar Exam Rules – there aren’t any other than these are all notes from my true first listen. I’m a geek about hip-hop so I may pause or rewind tidbits in order to savor a moment or dissect a rhyme. Adding any other rules is kind of crazy. Listening to music should be fun.
Morph III – Starts out almost cinematic with building anticipation we hear “It’s Morphin Time.” An eerie piano line comes in, and Xay spits a melodic flow over it. Claps fade in as he adds another level to the flow, he actually kinda loses his mind. It’s fantastic.
“I guess it’s bout time/Time to go morph on the beat”
Snakes In December – The beat here is trippy, and Xay comes in with some storytelling about people he knows who are liars and cheats. They’re only here to waste his time. He’s comfortable with moving quickly from slow paced to triplet flows, and then throws in a catchy hook in the process. The mix on this project so far is alright. There’s not much shine to the production, and it sounds strictly underground because of this.
Black Ranger – It’s an easy trap beat with a chime-like synth sample before the bass lays in.
“the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice/the blacker the boy the bigger the news”
The beat progresses in this one, just before YCG Dante drops the second verse. It feels great. With this underground vibe all the way through, the EQ on the vocals makes it hard to understand everything that is said, but again this is just my first listen.
Crown Me – I really dig the instrumentals and the choices Xay makes with song format. All this trap music, and Xay is showing that he knows what life is like in the trap. Here on “Crown Me” he’s explaining the mentality of the people living in the trap.
“They pray to Jesus but they praying with a loaded chopper.”
Level 5 – The music bed here is more chill than the previous songs. Xay comes in with a catchy hook at the top. Double ATL, Corey Wise, and J-Phish join in and bring some nice quick verses. It’s pretty nice and chill, but I feel like each time we hit this hook it goes for too long.
Cry – Another big intricate beat here, with the vocals pretty far back in the mix. “I just wanna cry sometimes.” It presents as an interlude, and doesn’t really take us anywhere.
Suicide – “I swear I wake up dead when I’m trying to stay alive/I pop a xan just to hide from my pride/Look you in your eyes see myself I’m trying to die/It’s suicide ay it’s suicide”
Xay is sharing about feelings of inadequacy and depression. Letting people down is hard to deal with, but he knows all things work out for the good of those who love Jesus.
Sixth Ranger – Xay likes to roll with a certain vibe continuously throughout these songs. He finds a melody he likes and lets it ride. The beats are so big, it’s cool to marinate on these hooks.
Megamegamegazord – “Whole squad on a new level/Whole squad battle new devils”
The vocals are really dirty here, but this flow is nice. He’s sharing about his failures and mistakes. he was able to overcome these things, so he’s only stronger. This is my favorite track so far. I dig how honest he is, but that he can still point you to Christ in the darkness.
Phone Call – It’s an interlude. There’s never a way to critique these. It seems like this voice mail from a female friend should lead us into the next track.
Pink Ranger – This one seems to be about a relationship. It’s catchy, and the instrumental calls for this melody over it. “You been by my side you been by my side” As fast as it begins, it’s already over.
Level 6 – Alright hold up. The vocals on this hook are nice, and set the tone for what could be a strong and meaningful track. But from out of nowhere we get a double time flow that I can’t really understand. It sounds like it was recorded on cassette and it barely fits to this beat. I don’t know what just happened on this first verse. I think this song is supposed to present like a cypher but I don’t feel like any of these artists were given direction. They all have their own interpretations of what’s supposed to happen here. So rather than it sounding like one big song where each emcee hands off naturally to the next, it’s stressing me out because each verse sounds like a different track. The only thing that is in common here is the hook… but even that thematically doesn’t stick with anything else present here.
Clear – I rock with this. It’s a Derek Minor beat, and Xay absolutely spazzes here. “I put my faith in my knees like D Rose” Man I didn’t want this song to stop.
Letter To My Future – The synth bass line here scoops up and down to enhance the emotion as Xay picks up the performance in the middle of this one. It’s all melodies here, but it’s not boring. Xay knows what he needs to do to captivate the listener.
Fight – Xay leans into the autotuned vocals quite a bit on this project. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing though. He shows that there’s other things you can do with your voice than just lay some sappy and syrupy vocals on the track. He can bump up the octave, or really dig in and give some grit to it. There’s a lot of confidence in this ability here, and it’s refreshing.
360 – We’ve had a few similar sounding songs in a row now, so my energy level is dipping a bit. There’s nothing wrong with this song in particular, it’s probably just a song order issue.
Level 7 – Bl1nd3d drops the hook here, and it’s smooth. The bed here is chill with some finger snaps, even some birds chirping. Xay closes out this project sharing that he’s where he’s supposed to be. He’s fought a lot of demons, but he’s only stronger. It’s an overall conclusion wrapping up the project and the three part “Red Ranger” series.
Overall this sounds like an underground mixtape. It’s got a lot of grease in the wheels, and some underdeveloped engineering, but that adds to the vibe of the whole project. Xay, just like in the previous iterations of “The Red Ranger,” is able to articulate the battles he’s experienced in life in colorful ways. There’s a lot of depth there, but at the same time there’s an inviting and upbeat side to the music. The beats are all unique in their own way and there’s some absolute bangers on here. Paired with the performances that keep you guessing, this is one of the better trap music records I’ve heard in awhile. It’s not a perfect project, but there’s a lot to like.
Overall Rating – At The Bar