Over the past year we’ve featured an up and coming artist from Boston who calls himself Sur5ill. We were drawn to his brand of nerd rap and Work mixtape, and captivated by his ability to blend complex lyricism, clever punch lines, and vivid storytelling all within the framework of a concept record. With his latest mixtape, Exception, he brings all of these elements together yet again in an impressive manner. In many ways, Sur5ill’s Exception conveys the tale of a man maneuvering through life balancing inner-city tendencies with both self- and societally-imposed expectations.
From a lyrical standpoint, his bars are carefully crafted throughout. Sur5ill uses strong rhyme patterns and a healthy variance of flows, tones (sometimes on his own, sometimes via vocal effects), and deliveries. Right off the bat, on the first track, appropriately titled, “Exception To The Rule Intro”, Sur5ill transitions from a mid-tempo, sharp couplet based delivery into a double-timed staccato flow to conclude the track. What’s great about the switch-up is that he announces it in the rhyme leading up to such, rapping, “now, I, have some bravado, I rap in stoccato…” He’s not only displaying his skills, he’s telling us what to check for. I can dig it.
Track by track, he gives us a glimpse into many of the internal tug-of-wars he experiences throughout his journey. For example, my favorite moment on the record comes on the hook for a track entitled, “Honor Thy Father”, where Sur5ill discusses the impact and intricacies of his relationship with his father. He simply states, in an almost resigned yet matter-of-fact tone, “I ain’t trying to be social, I’m just trying to be pleasant.” As a stand-alone bar, it’s a relatable sentiment, at least to me. We all have moments where we engage, and maybe even enjoy a little schmoozing; some more than others. But for the most part, much like Sur5ill’s line, I’d rather just keep to self, more often than not. I’m glad you’re well, let’s catch up another time… In the larger context of the track, it evokes a lot more than just relatability. And that’s why I dig this song. It’s deep. Sur5ill is clever, funny, confident, and boastful at various points throughout the mixtape, but taking nothing away from the stellar bar for bar composition of this track, it stands out because it’s powerful. It’s a moment of honest self-reflection, accented by an ethereal sounding beat that feels equal parts banger and trance, but driven by the sheer potency of the lyrics. Here’s and example:
Like father like son’s dumb, it’s a sentiment I run from
Candidly, it’s all a bunch of bullshit and I shunned tons
Yeah, think about it: that’s a lot of dung flung
I drown in fucking rum punch this damage can’t be undone
What’s alarming to me is the farmers believe
That the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
Another standout set of bars is the last verse’s conclusion, which I dig because the wordplay between typo and Type-O is brilliant and because he ends on such a potent note.
You dial, I’m inclined to decline those shits
Or text reply on my iPhone shit
On some typo shit
Even though we share the same blood
On some type-O shit
Try to be thick skinned on some rhino shit
And now the pyro’s lit, I’m Sur5ILL bitch
Powerful stuff. He’s throwing all the cards on the table on “Honor Thy Father”. Sur5ill, like many others, is grappling with being his father’s son. It’s a notion that to some extent plays into the larger theme of balancing where he comes from, from where he’s at, and where he’s trying to go. Tracks like “Drop Outs Always Fail” with references to famed dropouts Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, as well as “You’re From The Hood” and “You Don’t Belong Here” speak to Sur5ill’s journey, while others like “Smart Gang”, “F O E” (Family Over Everything), and “Go To Church” touch on his character, personality, and beliefs.
There’s a light-hearted moment midway through mixtape, on “You Don’t Belong Here”, that balances out some of the heavier concepts of the album nicely. It’s a brief skit where his people bail on him during a recording session, prompting Sur5ill to yell out, “I paid for this session! I belong here!” Also noteworthy, his bypassing of a traditional chorus on “Broad Generalizations”, opting instead to talk through the hook, encouraging his listeners to respect the ladies and to shall we say, take care of them when the lights go out. I’m not entirely sure what to make of his introspective voyage concluding with the “Get Married Interlude”, a track where he (presumably) jokingly questions his wedding (“why say I do? I’d rather go back to being lonely!“), followed by “Die Young”, a dark, reflective track that comes complete with references to Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. It’s a memorable, if not somewhat melancholy way to end the mixtape, but given how (seemingly) deeply Sur5ill dug within himself to compose this mixtape, perhaps it’s both fitting and unavoidable.
At day’s end, what I do know is that Exception is truly an exceptional work. It’s an honest, well-composed concept album that displays Sur5ill’s growth as an artist, and perhaps as a person. It feels like a journey into his mindset, which is the mark of a strong, self-contained piece. This isn’t the record you’re going to put on at a wedding reception (particularly that “Get Married Interlude”). It’s not about club bangers or street anthems. It’s about confidence and doubt, growth, and ambition. It’s about Sur5ill. And it’s pretty damn good. Check it out.