By James Lanik
Astute followers of the hip hop scene for the last several years, may have noticed that GOOD Music, Kanye West’s in-house record label, has had a somewhat terrible reputation at letting their more unknown artists get the publishing and coverage they deserve.
Former and current signees such as Desiigner and Teyana Taylor have expressed their frustration with the creative restrictions they dealt with during the time with the label.
Kacy Hill has never expressed annoyances as explicitly as her labelmates, but the absence of any new music for the majority of her time with GOOD Music, along with her departure mid last year, lead me to infer she likely had similar misgivings.
In 2020, she’s releasing music on her terms now, and while her sophomore effort might not be the most boundary-breaking project you’ll hear this year, Kacy Hill puts her influences on full display without sacrificing originality.
The greatest revelation about Is It Selfish is how much more comfortable Hill sounds in the sonics that surrounds her. Her 2017 debut Like A Woman, had flashes of brilliance, but its melting pot of then-popular production flourishes lacked any sort of coherence with her delicate falsetto, and the dissonance became fatiguing on the ears as the record progressed.
Where that record tried half-heartedly to appeal to modern trends in music, her second album isn’t afraid to indulge in some retro sensibilities. Here, Hill hands the production reigns over to frequent Kanye collaborator Francis and the Lights, whose wet and glossy synthpop instrumentation lay a blank canvas for Kacy to explore.
Even on the tracks where he is not credited, his influence on the album is tangible throughout. That being said, these backing tracks never get quite as unpredictable as her last album, but it’s reliably moody throughout.
The album sets a high bar for itself with early tracks like “Much Higher.” Its cavernous sawtooth synth lines force Kacy to explore her dynamic range a bit more, which is a great thing because she’s at her best when she glides into her upper register without ever seeming in danger of being swallowed by the accompanying sounds.
She sounds at her most vulnerable here, singing, “Maybe forgiveness is a waiting room, It’s nice to think that when I’m getting older, I could be good at getting closer.”
She opens up about her frustrations more with herself than with any friend or former lover and those moments of self intimacy are the most relatable here. On “Everybody’s Mother”, Kacy sings, “I’m everybody’s mother and nobody’s baby, Been given’ too much to feel lonely lately.”
Her lyrics convey the sense of longing for an intimate relationship, while simultaneously being apprehensive about change.
While most tracks here lean squarely on the shoulders of modern R&B, Kacy Hill often sneaks in some vocal cadences that sound more inspired from the early 2000’s adult contemporary music, reminiscent of a downtempo Norah Jones or Diana Krall ballad.
“Just To Say” keeps the stakes low with a bouncy 808 drum kept in place with a snap beat for Hill to croon over softly. Structurally, it’s a song that’s pretty old school but sounds cleverly modernized by the counter melodies introduced by the synths in the background, seemingly in conversation with the singer.
“I Believe In You” is another notably low key cut from the album, with the sole feature from Francis and the Lights. While these tracks exhibit an impressive amount of restraint to create their atmosphere, there’s little meat on the bones here and is where the album is at its weakest.
When Kacy’s lyrics are sharp enough to complement the more forward-moving beats on the album, it feels like Kacy and her collaborators struck gold. But here, they amount to little more than somber window dressing.
And herein lies the issue underlying many of GOOD Music’s past signees. All too often, it seems like the heads at the label, namely Kanye (though not as involved with the label as he once was) made contract decisions for artists that seemed like a great fit as a guest feature on an album of his that would serve to diversify the sonic palette of his work.
Artists like Sheck Wes, Desiigner, Teyana Taylor, and Kacy Hill worked wonders, but after those 15 seconds of glory, little is heard from most of these names until years later when a usually low key album release pops up in the corner of streaming services.
More often than not, these projects are palatable and full of potential, yet that potential doesn’t seem fully realized, as is this case here. This isn’t to discredit the work of the artists themselves, and Kacy Hill hasn’t been associated with G.O.O.D. for over a year, but still, it would be nice to see the label invest more time and effort into promoting their smaller, rising artists and networking them with the right mentors to help them achieve a much more ambitious solo effort.
Luckily, Is It Selfish… feels like a much stronger effort than many other recent projects from artists in her camp, even if it feels like it still has somewhere more ambitious to go with its storytelling.
It has original ideas, though subtle and slight and for that reason, this album probably won’t amount to much more than background mood music for many, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If her work here helps her make it in the queue of many more people’s “chill vibes” playlist, then at least she’ll start to be recognized by many more people as an artist with miles of potential ahead of her.
Featured image via Kacy Hill’s Album Cover.