When an artist shows some attention to lyricism, for me, it stands as credit to their caliber as an artist and to their esteem as a worthy participant in the collaborative act of making songs which all add up to continue defining and re-defining this ever-evolving genre.
“Focused” is a song so recently released by Atlanta artist Fenni Casino, it hasn’t even been uploaded to streaming platforms yet, much less officially distributed. So, if you’re looking for it online, it will probably be a while before you find it. There are a range of similar sounding, equal quality songs already uploaded to Fenni’s Soundcloud, but this single, featuring Mack Gram and set to a beat produced by Hip Hop legend DJ Pain 1 might be better sounding on paper than it is in reality. It’s the kind of song you want playing in the background while you read, study, or go for a long drive at night; but, at it’s essence, this song is not one that I can imagine anybody focusing on. It’s not bad by any means. It’s got a lot of well-written lyrics which is an element of the song making process that I prize above all else. When an artist shows some attention to lyricism, for me, it stands as credit to their caliber as an artist and to their esteem as a worthy participant in the collaborative act of making songs which all add up to continue defining and re-defining this ever-evolving genre. But even with a moderate amount of thought placed on the lyrical end of things, I still can’t find much ground to stand behind this track. It’s good, but just good. The whole song ends up being something a little too jazzy, too soul-infused, and too low key sounding to do anything with other than have playing in the background; this is music you can talk over.
Casino’s style mirrors that of the circa 1990’s storyteller/confessional style rappers, which in today’s terminology would be equatable to something like a conscious rapper. Sounding a lot like Nas, especially during his Illmatic era, there should be a lot to love here — especially for someone who is such a fan of that era. There’s a few other noteworthy comparisons that this song brings to mind. Souls of Mischief (think their song “93 ’Til Infinity”), as well as Gravediggaz (think “1-800-Suicide”) and a little bit of anything by Mobb Deep. They’re all, like Casino, deeply conversational in flow and cadence, profoundly dated to the 90’s era of Hip Hop, with very similar stylistic choices occurring instrumentally as well.
In terms of stylistically rooting your music in something which is already long outmoded, I think — when it works — this is more often a good thing for Hip Hop than not. It’s important to have some classic, traditional, and ultimately foundational stylings added back into the mainstream mix, giving a sense of history and homage to what would otherwise quickly become a vacuous barrage of face-tatted teenagers auto-tuning their ad-libs for two minutes and calling it a song.
Despite being produced by DJ Pain 1, who I deeply respect as a producer and as a leading influence in the building of this genre’s hallmark sounds, this one just doesn’t have the same fluid, moody, nostalgic kind of overtone that make his past works so instantly recognizably, and widely esteemed. The guitar solo screeching mid-mix is, I hate to say, borderline corny. The dampened drums mute a almost satirical bedroom-esque vibe. Then the song cuts off abruptly at 5:10 and proceeds with 10 seconds of additional audio tale. This track is just, at the end of the day, despite the prodigious production behind it, simply too nondescript to keep focused on. Casino should consider giving this slow jam some additional elements of interest, some change ups in the largely monotone cadence — just some kind of stylistic reprieve from the nostalgic, try-hard vibe, which isn’t serving the production or the artist here. Also, Fenni Casino should know, as an artist and as a purveyor of that ever important, iconic 90’s sound, he has both my respect and acknowledgement — regardless of how this one single turned out.