Album Review – I Heart U by Half Brother
Review By: Benjamin Gibson
Let me talk about my Half Brother for a minute. Well not my actual half brother – who I assume still exists, somewhere. I’m going to go ahead and informally claim the Toronto hip hop artist as my half brother too. In case you missed it, the man’s name is Half Brother and his music reminded me this morning that hip hop and Toronto both existed before Drake. There is nothing wrong with Drake, he’s awesome – please don’t send me emails.
Half Brother is a Canadian hip hop artist, born and raised in Toronto – that is currently hip hopping between Toronto and Los Angeles. His new album is available now on Spotify and iTunes and it’s called… ready? I Heart U. Half Brother brings in a fair bit of experimentation to this album and also reminded me that hip hop can be – fun, thoughtful and even optimistic. Here’s how he describes his work…
“I want to make music that is soulful, bright and positive. Those are streams I want to continue in but I also want to rock and make dance songs. I want to work with truly gifted artists of my time. I want to make music that can be respected as art and also be enjoyed on a simpler level. I want to be able to compose, to tour, make releases off of which I can live. More importantly, I plan to give whatever I don’t need to live off of to people unable to live safe and healthy, and mobilize people to do the same.” – Half Brother
For the most part this is a summer album through and through and above everything you can tell the artist is enjoying himself. I would highly recommend listening to this album on a boardwalk in the sun, maybe on a bike, or one of those little skateboards. Those little skateboards are from the 80’s you know. Go listen to this in the sun, and then later the rain.
The first track Home Again is as Canadian as you can get, it’s soft compared to the rest of the album, and probably the most personal – I would think – on this album. I’m going with personal as it’s his most genuine expression of his views on life, and where he comes from, and that’s important. I think he’s talking about Toronto – or LA, or both.
My Headphones is probably the best track on the album in my opinion. It’s serious pop at it’s best – take that as a compliment or an insult as you will… But it’s not easy to write a good pop song now. Indie artists are competing with producers – with digital tricks all up in their pop music. This song nails it – it’s catchy as f, it’s short and the vocals and lyrics are just great. Walk down Bay Street and listen to this and try and not to feel on top of the damn world. The saxophone is a nice touch – as are the killer vocals by Half Brother – I’m going to say these vocals dance on the razor’s edge of being cheesy,
but with the juxtaposition of the rhymes by Half Brother carrying the track, the vocals don’t actually get a cheesy rating. Instead I’ll give it to Half Brother on staying positive about life – and for producing a hip hop song independently with such a successful pop-ish-hook. This should be a strong 2018 summertime song.
Child for Life is the third single from I Heart U and for the second time on this album I’m feeling a lot better about my own life choices and life in general. I got a minute to chat with Half Brother about this track – Child for Life features vocals by Meredith Bull. This is the first real track we can get a sense of the artists singing voice. The spirit of the song is proudly immature, in a way that reminds us to do stuff like taking an hour on Saturday afternoon to go on a bike ride or lay in the grass. The song ends with a pretty weird / cute interaction with a man who we can assume is the artists grandfather.
“We all die one day and that’s ok” is the first line from Connected. Half Brother starts to come through more genuinely again in this song – or at least more personally again since track one. The beat is pretty and a little bittersweet as is the sentiment. This song is actually pretty big, it takes on a truth about our lives that we’re all in this together, that we’re the “same person” – I don’t think that’s literally, but we know what he’s getting at right? He also experiments again with some narrative samples in this track bringing back a positive outlook at the end.
I knew a guy back in radio school – which I sparsely attended three whole semesters of – while walking down a hallway at York University he came upon a piano pushed up against a wall – he pulled it out and out of nowhere he started playing it. I can’t hear a piano without thinking of that, sorry. Needless to say the next track has some pretty solid piano. Musically this a great track. I wish more hip hop played with melodies. Lyrically it’s pretty successful too – not as deep as the previous tracks, but still valid – if you have a person in your life, or ever have, that you wanted nothing but good stuff for, maybe stuff that person doesn’t accept for themselves and stuff… Damn that’s such a sweet piano…
The next track makes me a little uncomfortable – don’t get me wrong it’s a good, I was just raised in a very british household, so a song titled “Love Myself” makes me just wonder why I would want to do such a thing. All self-love humor aside this is some high energy stuff that should have been a single – this song reminds us to treat ourselves to regular and healthy self love, damn it, I did it again.
Next up, a fucking roller-coaster. The track by the same name as the artist, Half Brother features musical textures that only exist in a universe where Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Rage Against the Machine. This track just proves Half Brother has range, solid talent across the board, and a possible personality disorder.
Heart on my Chest is a breakup song. It’s not a bad break up song. I think I’m not connecting with it only because the rest of this album is so optimistic, and thoughtful – and speaks to all of us collectively, this is something I’m into, apparently. I’m going to take a back-seat here and just let Heart on my Chest happen, because this isn’t my album – and Half Brother deserves a chance to get some crap off his chest (so to speak) – and just because my heart hasn’t been broken in a long time, it doesn’t mean yours hasn’t.
Musically we get back on the horse with Animal Kingdom the second last track on I Heart U. The freaking cello makes this track. This is the last time I’m going to say this in this article – hip hop can, and should experiment with more classic instruments. Another love song I would presume based on the lyrics – although they are a bit cryptic. I think Half Brother could have written a love song about life itself, or this song is a tribute to the TNT show by the same name… I doubt it.
We’re wrapping up I Heart U now, with some slow beats and some light and beautiful vocals by Emily Krol. I think we all feel like this once and while. Too Much, it’s about that, too much, too much everything, something I think we can all relate to – it’s also about substance abuse a bit I think. Half Brother has openly faced his own addictions and overcome them, no small task. That said in the spirit of the song I don’t want to think about this, too much.
I Heart U, is genuine above anything else, and a pretty good hip hop / pop album. Half Brother is a great artist and is doing cool stuff. I expect his next album to be even more flushed out in the message, and maybe even more experimental with the music? One can only hope. I’ll again implore you to take a listen to this while out in the sunshine with your headphones – we should have a couple weeks left of decent weather. If nothing else I think this album should inspire you to do a bit more in your life, and if it does I think Half Brother would be pretty happy about that.