Earlier this year, when his mixtape Beyond Limitations had just cleared its first few thousand downloads, Leon Marin started asking his fans and Twitter followers what associations they had with the term “gray matter.” Upon discovering that this would be the title of his next project with producer Angel M., I expected some cerebral topics. Without a doubt, the result is thoughtful and contemplative, especially coming from a 21 year-old. Yet the theme of the Gray Matter EP seems to be more along the lines of gray areas — that of which we are not sure. For Marin, the description covers a range of subjects.
On the EP’s opener “Maybe,” uncertainty is in the expectations of listeners and the success-minded artist, with lyrics that weigh whether crass content is really what the people want and need. “Ole” explores the chasm between rash reaction and poise, its chorus punctuated by a freshly positioned catchphrase. By the time he’s begun to dig into the spiritual gray areas of the third track, “Speak The Truth,” one realizes that the breakneck pace established so far is not about to let up — amidst all the questions this project asks, one thing that is for sure is that its seven songs represent the maturation and coming out of Marin’s rare gift as a speed rapper. In fact, it seems serendipitous that the Gray Matter release party at Plugs Media Lounge on Atlantic Avenue took place just a few blocks from the Barclay Center; at the very same time that Leon and Angel began their set, the original godfather of verbal velocity, Big Daddy Kane, christened the stage during the first of Jay-Z’s sold out shows.
Lyrically, this EP stands in no one else’s shadow, instead dealing wholly with one’s self. “Speak The Truth” details an internal struggle so exhausting that for the hook, the vocalist lays back in the cut while Angel pushes the Alex Ebert sample into the forefront. The effect is that of a boxer taking a breather in his corner while his manager revives him for the next round.
At the EP’s center, “Paradise” stands as a fitting mirage, a sparse, trance-suffused track that vanishes into thin air all too soon. The open feel suggests that Gray Matter would do well with a remix treatment—not because the beats need any work, but because the creative seeds are sown so deep, there’s room to grow in a variety of rhythmic and stylistic directions.
On “God Like,” all signs point upward, following an energetic buildup that seems to flow straight through the top of the emcee’s dome. Triumphantly, this musical moment also seems to have the most potential as a single here, though all the refrains on this EP are catchy, original, and as well-crafted as any indie hip-hop artist has delivered this year. Riding this wave of clarity and conviction, “When I Drop” takes the twenty-five minute long journey towards its conclusion with a jaw-dropping display of breath control. Every corner of his world is still haunted by veiled threats, but the artist proceeds undaunted. At that point, with nothing left to prove, the ambient groove of “Space” feels buoyed by an intrepid joy, an uplifting coda that faces the future fearlessly.
This isn’t the first time Angel M. and Leon Marin have gotten together. The producer teamed up with the Brooklyn emcee on several standouts from Beyond Limitations, including the dynamic “Love Drops.” Yet this new project is even more fully a collaborative effort, as each performer steps up where needed and sets up his counterpart to shine when it counts. We look forward to more from this talented pair, but don’t wait for tomorrow to pick up on their work—download The Gray Matter EP for free right now.
Photo: Leon Marin courtesy of The Rat Mag