Medhane’s music makes you feel something. His unique brand of hip hop draws out emotions at a sonic level in a way rap music rarely does. That isn’t to blast other rappers or sub-genres, nor is it a condemnation of hip hop in any way. In fact, hip hop’s varied output rarely gets enough credit—with artists articulating every facet of the human condition through across diverse music forms. But Medhane’s music creates an environment few other rappers tap into. An environment distinctly his own. An environment that takes you to the place he raps from.
This is a common theme in much of the prolific output from artists associated with the [sLUms]. collective. [sLUms]., a group of loosely connected underground rappers, producers, and singers primarily from New York, was founded by rapper MIKE and drew in artists like Earl Sweatshirt, MAVI, Liv.e, Pink Siifu, Maxo, and Navy Blue (the latter two featured on Cold Water). Their take on hip hop deconstructs the genre’s established conventions—boiling hooks down to repeated phrases, rapping with monotone emotion, and picking jazz-sampling experimental beats—in an effort to maximize the impact of each particular element, sometimes in isolation, sometimes all at once.
In all honesty, it’s difficult to talk about Medhane’s music to someone who hasn’t heard it. But if you’ve never heard music from [sLUms]. this album is a great place to start. He raps in an accessible style while keeping to their monotone and stream-of-consciousness trademarks. The songs are tight, and the beats are even catchy, like the smooth sax sample on “I’m Deadass.” And Medhane’s lyricism is remarkable. He recounts densely symbolic scenes in his concise verses, often requiring a few listens to fully grasp. The songs sound conflicted and noisy, like the space in your own head when sensory and memory overload coincide.
That being said, just describing the muddy, sample-heavy beats or the self-reflective, interpretive bars on Cold Water fails to convey its overall power. The album works as an all-encompassing, sonically cohesive articulation of Medhane’s traumatic, complex life. He subtly marries impactful memories with lessons learned, like on the opening lines of “Don’t Fuck Around” (“Mama said listen when they send signs / Listen to the universe to get mine”), while lucidly grappling with life’s conflicting truths as a creative Black man in modern America (“Everything I say true / In the mirror when I face truth”). This is best articulated on “TRS,” where Medhane raps “Insight came from experience, and many spliffs.” The album is an exploration of insight from and into Medhane’s mind, often through woozy, viby instrumentals. It’s music to think to and music to smoke weed to, usually at the same time.
Listening to Cold Water, you enter a rich, nuanced world of Medhane’s creation—a deliberate soundscape that truly feels like what he raps about. From a critical perspective, that may seem like a weak advocation, but this album is beautiful in a unique way. It takes you to a distinct place where genre conventions and expectations crumble and reform within the span of a single two-minute song. It puts you in the mind of a conflicted, growing man, a place of much wisdom.
Listen to Cold Water on Spotify.