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Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is 4 REAL, a new mixtape from melodic Florida-born rapper and producer 454.
On an endless playing field, full of dimensions to crawl through, it takes true commitment to oneself to execute one’s vision no matter what normalcy means in the moment. The outsiders who can tap in can feel the ripples, certified only by their gut rather than the clout that can engulf someone new. Since the first time I heard 454 (aka Willie Wilson) — through the Pennsylvania artist/Joy Again member ARTHUR, cut from the cloth I’ve described — I’ve found myself enamored by the ways 454 bends time and melody, constantly calling on tradition while pushing towards the future at warpspeed. Initially, I was taken aback by how daunting it was on the surface: while the 2-minute mark is a default, some 454 songs often push four minutes by repeating themselves at a slowed pace. The Auto-Tune is thick, the rapid-fire embraced, but sweet love and deep pain run deep underneath the glee. This is the work of a Floridian infatuated with the vibe, as guided by SpaceGhostPurrp and Chief Keef as he is DJ Screw and Three 6 Mafia. It’s trunk music, left open-faced and overdriven for all its glitchy rewards.
4 REAL, 454’s “first” mixtape, treats us to an extended journey into this vibrant world, transcending place and memory to supply a smorgasbord of fie shit. It’s as if life is the theme, 454 guiding us through his ticking thoughts with such gloss and a blissful ignorance of the boundaries. At surface, he’s a man of simple pleasures: the love of another, the thrill of hittin’ a good staircase, the waves he catches when gliding across borders. He weaves a young lifetime surrounded by traumas: friends fighting cases, lost family members, life gnawing at the will to press onward. 454’s production pairs with his songwriting as if they’re inseparable instruments; he knows every corner of his samples, which directions to spin his melodies, and when to get out of his own way to let the vibe set itself. He’s deeply youthful, yet wedged right between eras to a perfect advantage: 4 REAL will ensure he thrives in this melody-first climate via a trove of earworms, but his often-nimble lyricism proves an unwavering asset towards his prevailing versatility. 454 raps and sings like he’s fully aware of his purpose, and will do anything to defend his dreams.
There’s nowhere Willie Wilson can’t go: footwork, juke, hyperpop-tinted soul chops, mutated post-Pi’erre waves. There’s a quality that’s familiar enough to invite listeners in, just far enough to push them as he jolts towards more radical ideas. Timely, yet timeless: floating through nostalgia and the unknown all at once. For all its successes, it’s clear we’re still very early in what 454’s capable of. As we inch towards more global warmth on the brink of injection, 4 REAL will only age better, as every record has the potential to become a favorite song. If 454 continues to nurture what makes him otherworldly, expect a fruitful future rooted from here: this first major transmission from whichever euphoria he’s building for us.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.