In the two decades since “Ready To Die,” crack has ceased to be the hot topic among the day’s most acclaimed MC’s (though it continues to fuel the booming sub-genre of trap rap). Instead of competing with Jay-Z and Raekwon for the role of best studio mafioso like Biggie in the 1990’s, Ayun is walking the tightrope of self-awareness, consciousness and transparency that Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill, Drake and J. Cole have stretched over the game as a standard for elite MCing. Rappers are now rewarded for being up front about their vulnerabilities and are mocked mercilessly for even the slightest level of fronting. Ayun has a remarkable talent for expressing those varied elements of his character without compromising the bravado and showmanship that is essential to MCing.
Throughout “HUGs+SLAPs,” Ayun expresses the updated perspective of a brilliant young mind lost in transition. Like most of his generation, the 24-year-old is intrigued by the possibilities of the new world but is still weighing the downfalls of disconnecting from old roots.
Ayun’s direct line back to the mother land keeps him more rooted than most, but his varied experiences from the streets of Shao Lin to the suburbs of southern New Jersey still cause conflict in the artist’s troubled mind.
He compensates on “HUGs+SLAPs” with loud boasts and the occasional high note:
“Chocolate boy, life golden, I’m the winning ticket/Wonka told me, mama told me, Jah told me/holy water, holy oil from my great grand mommy,” he spits effortlessly on “Day’s Day.”
The former football star (he was signed to the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers before choosing to focus primarily on music) grabs listeners and squeezes tight on tracks like “Emphasis,” which showcases his immense talent as a writer and performer. Over glorious keys, Ayun spits from his chest as he lists his many inspirations and stresses. “Can’t stress enough, shit saved my life… I think I’m Prince, I got the funk, I’m like my pops, that boy my dog,” he chants with supreme confidence as keys dance lightly below his heavy East Coast drawl.
Ayun stretches his vocal chords even further on “Waffles, Friendly” an arresting cover of a familiar tune– and one of the many curveballs he pitches on “HUGs+SLAPs.”
Everyone needs hugs and slaps to stay centered. Thankfully, Ayun is the perfect man to deliver the blows and squeezes. He captivates for the projects full 50 minutes with flair and fearlessness, dishing out hugs, slaps and quotables that make life’s long journey bearable.
Go on and press play. this a wavy one.