Photo by Ethan Nelson
Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is the sophomore release from The Internet’s Patrick Paige II, If I Fail Are We Still Cool?
Patrick Paige II may not yet be as well-known as the other solo acts that have come out of The Internet — like Syd or Steve Lacy, both featured here — but his latest album is poised to change that.
If I Fail Are We Still Cool? is about a journey — on a flight, with interruptions from the flight attendant filtering in, just one texture within the sonic world that Paige has created. The point of the concept album is clear: Prepare for liftoff, because this is not a sophomore slump. His second solo album has the energy of a true debut, with the self-assuredness that was missing on Letters of Irrelevance.
Paige spoke to Complex, along with fellow L.A.-native and bassist Thundercat, about his newfound confidence and self-love. About his first solo project he said, “Letters of Irrelevance was a very personal project. It was more of an outlet for me, more like a journal … I personally don’t like the album any more. I’m a little embarrassed by it. More so the performances and the sound, not what I was talking about. Because I own completely what I was talking about. You know what I’m saying? Like what happened, happened, it is what it is ... But the new one, I’m very proud of this one … I’m definitely more confident in my voice, what I’m writing about, what I’m talking about. For me it’s just like a big affirmation.”
And it starts with an affirmation: In that soothing flight attendant’s voice, “You are the captain of your own flight today.” That confidence flows through the entirety of the album, and that exact line echoes again at the end of “So They Say,” in case you missed it the first time.
The self-assured cool is contagious on tracks like “Ain’t Talkin Bout Much,” which sees tempo and gusto from Syd, whose contributions are usually more quiet storm than rap deluge. It’s also on full display on “Freestyle,” with Paige and Saba trading off smoothly — it could have felt unbalanced, but Paige matches Saba’s agility, if not speed.
Other standouts include “Whisper (Want My Luv)” — the funk-leaning single featuring Steve Lacy, Allen Love and Durand Bernarr — and “Big Plays” with Westside Mcfly, all braggadocious summertime energy, with Paige literally flexing, lifting weights and at one point pulling a car behind him.
The end of “Good Grace” hears Paige asking the titular question: “If I fail, are we still cool?” He’s first answered with “Oh, most definitely.” But then, another voice comes in, asking why he’s even putting that question out into the universe. They tell him, “You say, ‘When I win, are we gon’ still be cool, always,” and then, “Let’s talk about how you win.”
Paige seems to have made that the emotional center of the album. It asks questions about success, what it looks like and what he’s doing to achieve it, and doesn’t balk from the uncertainty and vulnerability he started with on Letters of Irrelevance. But it’s asked and answered: The title asks “If I fail,” and the album replies with how he wins.
There’s an undeniable orchestration here, throughout the entire project, that is exemplary of what happens when an artist is a musician first — rapper, singer and producer second. This may be a “solo” project by Paige, but despite his many talents, it’s not a one-man show. He told Complex, “I had hella fun. Every feature that I have on there, they’re all my friends in real life.” That element of community shows, in the ease and openness of the record. He has an ear for arrangement and a skill for knowing how to calibrate himself around those features, creating a seamless final project in which diverse talents don’t compete but build on each other.
At 17 tracks, If I Fail Are We Still Cool? could feel laborious. Instead, it’s a breezy love letter to L.A. that might even be over too soon.
Theda Berry is a Brooklyn-based writer and the former Editor of VMP. If she had to be a different kind of berry, she’d pick strawberry.