Late last year, co-labels Ninja Tune and Big Dada released the double-disc Zen Sampler, which featured recent signees and old artists alike with recent or forthcoming releases. Not the least of these was Tre Mission, whose radio single Brunch stuck out hard with spitfire rhymes and garage beats. Hearing of a late summer release for his debut full-length Stigmata was one of those moments that a reviewer craves: genuine, full-fledged excitement about a release from a new interest. And with 13 tracks of the same polyphonic song structures and ironic (but not self-indulgent) lyrics that balance sex appeal, autobiographical anecdotes, and commentary; Tre Mission has delivered on that promise.
The album is bookended by vignettes and (hopefully intentionally so) hilarious proverbs on street life, like a grimey and more capricious Kendrick Lamar. In fact, a lot of the soulful and downright subtle hooks that permeate Stigmata owe a lot of Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City; the title track is the best example, with the background female croon calling to Lamar’s Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.
This isn’t derivative. While Stigmata doesn’t add much that’s new to the avant-garde beatsmith scene, Tre Mission stands out in his impressive ability to synthesize what’s currently being produced into something that will appeal to pop and the underground. Stigmata occupies a curious space where hip-hop and grime coalesce, like a fantasy world in which Dr Dre produced Massive Attack in the ’90s and traded the former’s bombasticism for the latter’s glacial, vaguely post-punk-influenced aesthetic. The mix is cold and empty – On Road and In The Hallway are a one-two punch of icy garage hi-hats and minimalistic melodic underpinnings – but with a livelihood that keeps the rhythm flowing over the frigid subject matter. Hell, Real Grind is well on its way to being one of the best crossover hip-hop singles of 2014.
Money Make (Her), although a bit misguided in its lyrical composition, has a gorgeous guest appearance by Andreena that will appeal to a generation that grew up on the contemporary R&B of Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child. Fans of shrewd and aggressive hip-hop will revel at Merky Ace‘s hardhitting against a deep bass dub. Tre mastered and produced the album almost entirely by himself, and his masterful capture of each guest’s talents lends credence to his skills as a producer. The guest appearance by JME on Rally is a two-minute exercise in the dubstep game done right.
Some of the Tre’s lyrics are a bit too obtuse for the casual listener. Boy In The Corner has a lot of potential to canvass isolation in a world that obsessive over and rewards extroversion, but is too metaphorical to really grant identification. The officious self-aggrandisement and self-criticism of Milly is highly reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s Backseat Freestyle, but where Lamar was fully aware of how high life bastardises the psyche, Tre’s commentary gets a bit lost in its celebration. Similarly, Money Make (Her) is an iffy attempt at giving the listener feelings; the intent is totally there, but Tre isn’t convincing, and that kind of musing on the lower class woman was done better by Tupac Shakur and Common. On tracks like Intro, Tre rhymes so fast that he’d make Twista jealous, but he can occasionally be difficult to comprehend sans lyric sheets. The fact that Stigmata is a gem of sheer production quality is a major saving grace.
Overall, Stigmata is a pretty solid debut full-length that expands on the themes of previous mixtape Malmaison. Despite a couple misguidances, the pop leanings are successful and greatly increase Tre’s crossover appeal. Tre’s Jamaican and Trinidad roots mix in well with the ice of garage and grime, and his unique accent makes for a pleasurable and aggressive listening experience despite difficulties in understanding him. The American hip-hop influence is solid, and Tre Mission has potential written all over him. He’s assertive without being dickish, and that’s what good, reflective hip-hop is all about.