CEO Trayle: HH5 Album Review

November 14, 2022 - Uncategorized

On the ninth track of CEO Trayle’s HH5, the rapper is at war with himself. The song, “Alter Ego 2,” pits the sensitive and reasonable Trayle against his twisted counterpart C4, a voice in his head that moves like he has a death wish. A 2013 home invasion that left Trayle with seven gunshot wounds is the center of this track, and it continues to haunt him, even though he wants to move on. Telling C4 that he has a son and a future in rap now, those days of fear and bitterness are gone. But C4 is set on dragging him back into the mud. “Nigga must think you Superman, them seven shots ain’t teach you nothin’,” he raps with a slithery inflection, a ghoulish echo lingering in the background. The pressure doesn’t go anywhere; the song ends anti-climatically with the promise of money snapping Trayle out of his daze, temporarily pushing C4 to the back of his mind. Most CEO Trayle songs aren’t structured this way, and it illustrates why HH5 is an adventurous and bonkers dissection of the thinking you normally try to bury.

Trayle doesn’t hold your hand on “Alter Ego 2,” which is easily one of the best rap songs of the year. Though C4 is fictional, he’s not cartoonishly evil, just a mix of anger and paranoia. The concept is also strangely funny: He’s pretty much on the same wavelength as Danny talking to his imaginary friend Tony in The Shining. These are the complexities that Trayle is working with for much of HH5, an album where nearly every flow, cadence, and strain of thought is unpredictable. No song can be boxed-in to a single mood or feeling; reality and delusions are blurred.

Trayle is a nomadic rapper by definition. For the first 13 years of his life, he lived in the Bronx, eventually moved to Alabama, and then settled in Atlanta a couple of years later. His music doesn’t have roots in a specific city: You can hear traces of Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, Young Thug, No Limit, and Chief Keef, and the latter feels like the inspiration behind his insularity. Ultimately, the lyrics are so personal, the fast-switching flows so irreverent, and the tone so uniquely offbeat, that comparisons to other rappers can’t tell the whole story.

Across HH5, almost every track centers around a different one of his strengths. The album is effective because no single song is a perfect snapshot of his subtleties. On “Mathematician/Blackout,” his delivery gradually evolves over the eerie instrumental; he tiptoes at first, then eventually transforms into a possessed member of the Migos. With “Chainsmoking,” the mood skips all over the place: The hook sounds stressful, a few of the reflections are chilling, and a couple punchlines just sound sleek. He laments his drug dependency on “Chokehold,” running through all of his remedies to the point of hypnosis. “I Love You, But…” has the heartbroken lyrics of a mid-2010s Future mixtape cut (“Bitch, I love you, but we can’t keep doing this/If I don’t got these Percocets, might end up losing it”), but his creeping flow gives the song an uneasy bent.

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