Review: ‘Money Can’t Buy Happiness’

Fredo’s sophomore album strips the trap shades away, standing bare-chest in Fredo’s discography to offer the most focused subject matter and cohesion of his career.

The UK trap scene has been governed by Fredo for the last four years. Mixtapes Get Rich or Get Recalled and Tables Turn quickly put his name on the map, finding a balance between a raw persona in catchy tunes. His debut album, Third Avenue, was released in 2019, but did not make the splash expected. It was clear a new direction was needed to evolve Fredo’s career. A quiet 2020 signalled an imminent return that would recapture listeners. Enter fellow rapper Dave, who takes up the executive producer responsibility for Fredo’s new album, Money Can’t Buy Happiness.

On Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Fredo exchanges the heat for the firewood: laying a focused foundation rather than the predictable trap flavours of past work.

Fredo, a rapper that is known for his focus on the glitz and glamour, flips this on its head for 43 minutes. Now a father, there is a mature aura to Money Can’t Buy Happiness, a needed change from his forgettable debut album. “Do you love me or love that I’m freezing?”, he says on “Blood in My Eyes”, one of the many moments where Fredo exerts paranoia around his circle. The album opens up on a powerful front with “Biggest Mistake”, carrying a bag of regrets on his shoulders. It feels like an amalgamation of Fredo’s life events, events that have shaped the position he is at today and what has ultimately inspired the direction of the album.

Dave’s work as executive producer aids Fredo in finding a footing. He is entrusted to direct the artistic vision of the album, a guidance that Fredo may have struggled with in the past (a la “Hickory Dickory Dock”). Subdued beats control the mood and compliment the tracks, rather than the booming percussion of Fredo’s usual projects. Aside from the drill offering “Burner on Deck”, Money Can’t Buy Happiness remains nocturnal. It creates a satisfying consistency across the track length. The lesson was swiftly learnt; no yes men are in effect here.

An array of the songs sees a laidback Fredo in his element while accompanied by a haunting beat to noble effect. The minimalism of “Back to Basics” and “Blood in My Eyes” allows Fredo to take centre-stage with his tweaked lyricism and compelling subject matter, continuing the impression he left on his Daily Duppy. The latter song in particular completely grips your attention enough to give you chills, while also honing home the theme of the album (“It took money for me to finally see / That the best things in life are for free”). It is somewhat strange at first hearing Fredo wear his heart on his sleeve, however this is what’s the crux of what makes Money Can’t Buy Happiness a worthwhile album.

Money Can’t Buy Happiness thrives off its skeletal structure. But there are a moments of the Fredo everyone is used to. “Aunt’s Place” could have fit smoothly on Third Avenue, its muddy bass booming and chimes chinging behind Fredo’s confident delivery. It also holds one of the best hooks of the album, which come far and few due to Fredo focusing on the verses. “I Miss” is out the Tables Turn textbook while still carrying the album’s reflective tone.

What Fredo exhibits is evolution in his artistry. It is easier for him to create the same trap formula his last three projects have provided that fans will passively gobble up. But he made a conscious decision to take the introspective route and make an album that will be remembered beyond mere bangers to play on the aux. It is the first project in his career that feels like a thorough body of work with consistency across all boards; production, subject matter, cohesion, and also plucking appropriate guest features. A lengthier album could have squandered all this potential, but the executive decisions prevent this from being the case. This is a sedulous Fredo getting back to basics.

Can money buy happiness? After spending the majority of his career focusing on the money, Fredo concludes it cannot. Rather, there are finer things in life: trustworthy relationships, his daughter, and moving on from his past. Money Can’t Buy Happiness is the yin to Fredo’s yang, evolving his artistic vision and rescuing his career from looming stagnation.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Blood in My Eyes”, “Money Talks”, “Biggest Mistake”, “Aunt’s Place”, “Ready”, “What Can I Say”, “Burner on Deck”

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