Review: ‘13th Angel’

The 9-track album by upcoming rapper Lord Sko relives the era of SoundCloud rap, but is yet to find his bearings as a distinct artist.

At 16 years old, Harlem’s Lord Sko is preparing for an upwards slope in the local hip hop scene. Released at the tail end of 2020, his sophomore project 13th Angel is a conceptual offering inspired by psychedelic trips and the struggles associated with maintaining a sense of sanity. For an independent and partly self-produced body of work, 13th Angel is a promising start to the young artist’s career.

Sonically, there is a consistent mood and style. There is a heavy SoundCloud and cloud rap aesthetic at play, à la Live Love ASAP era ASAP Rocky. The album opens up triumphantly with “Asylum”, pleasing the ear with its mellow horns and trap percussion. “Bruises//In His Sins” is the crux of the album’s cloud rap aura, but does not overstay its welcome at a short 2 minutes. Darker shades to the album turn up on “HDMI” and “100 Sounds”. But the mood of “Chris Benoit” stands out the most thanks to its haunting strings and the deliveries of the Sko and the guest artists, who match the beat’s sinister energy.

13th Angel is thoughtful in how the album is sequenced. Beginning off mellow, the theme of the tracks become darker, with a trap banger sandwiched at the midpoint of the album to inject some necessary energy to the purposely lifeless vibe (“Fork in the Road”). Sko’s lyrics and delivery become more deflated towards the closing stages, transmitting a hopeless mood pretty effectively (“End of Days”).

The standout aspect of 13th Angel is the production. While not unlocking any new ground, the beats are not rudimentary. Songs take numerous detours, such as the introduction of the guitar at the tail end of “Asylum” and the ever-changing structure on the closing track, “Last Page”. The latter is a worthy closer, leaving the album on a memorable note by packing in three beat switches and a desolate performance by Lord Sko. It is a commendable quality to 13th Angel, refusing to take the simplistic approach when it comes to trap beats and song structures. The beats are rarely let down on the rapping end, with Sko providing impressive flows on cuts like “100 Rounds” and “Bruises//In His Sins”. In departments like these, 13th Angel dares to be bold and presents a promising artist in the making.

However, Lord Sko wears his influences on his sleeve quite transparently. The album’s mood, production and rapping style are thoroughly reminiscent of early ASAP Rocky, another Harlem native. It is hard not to hear the resemblances, whether intentional or not. Being early in his career, Lord Sko should work on brushing off the likeness to individualise his sound.

13th Angel is also affected by inconsistent vocal mixing. Sko’s vocals sit over the beat to “Asylum”, not sounding integrated with the production. Elsewhere, vocals are relatively quiet in the mix, needing a boost to make Sko’s performances more prominent.

The rapping may impress, but that is to the detriment of hooks and melodies. 13th Angel crucially misses hooks, which are sacrificed to keep the wheel turning on song structures. If there were solid hooks in place, songs would be more memorable than they are in their existing states.

With 13th Angel, Lord Sko is on the right track. Ambition is shown in the production and song structures to deliver some impressive moments. However he is yet to find his bearing as a distinct artist, an area that should be worked on for future releases.

Best tracks: “Chris Benoit”, “End of Days”, “Last Page”, “Asylum”

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