"HOTEL PARANOIA" by JAZZ CARTIER REVIEW
Jazz Cartier is Toronto’s Golden Child. Since his last album Cartier has criss-crossed the country several times, going from opening for Rae Sremmurd at last year’s NXNE to selling out the Phoenix Theater on his own. Wild symbolism there.
Last year’s Marauding In Paradise was the big reveal, fully establishing Cartier beyond his soundcloud singles, and giving us a taste of a truly interesting character: One part jet setting, suave, ladies man who has definitely rubbed shoulders with people who own private islands, and the other part an insane, paranoid party animal who will not hesitate to bottle you for cutting him off on the sidewalk. Cartier traverses both areas with finesse, and his best tracks come from when he fully commits to either (“Rose Quartz” for the former, “Holy Shit” for the latter), and becomes truly transcendent when he finds a way to meld the two (“Switch” and “Dead Or Alive”). Cartier also possesses a knack for letting us into his personal life, something that gives his boasts weight, and adds a sense of real intrigue to his ascent. MIP was a strong debut project, and gave the listener a great introduction to a future great.
Hotel Paranoia is not that. Recorded in the midst of Cartier’s heavy touring, it shows. Songs feel more functional than interesting, leaving the big tracks feeling like an effort to bolster Cartier’s touring set. These tracks, that feel like they’re following a textbook definition of “bangers” aren’t offensive, they’re big, and I would absolutely get wild to them at a show, but they feel empty. Gone is the personal investment that makes a song like “Switch” so interesting, Cartier feels like he’s running through the motions on tracks like “100 Roses”, where the insanity gives way to Cartier dropping verse about how everybody isn’t on his level, a claim MIP proved, but the boasts aren’t inventive or engaging enough to make them worthwhile on their own.
In line with this, the concept aspect of the album feels weak, with opener “Talk of The Town”, “100 Roses” and closer “Save Me From Myself” being the only three tracks that really resonate with the theme. This again seems to be a result of the album being recorded during a back and forth period, leaving the concept half baked. Shouts to Dead Dilly though, because if I was Cartier I would have a hard time not putting him on everything, even if it is to push a concept that doesn’t really exist.
This attempt to try and play up the album does more harm than good, and coupling it with a padded tracklist leads to some rough moments (Illuminati Love Song, i’m looking @ you), taking away from the better ones.
Towards the back end, Cartier drops a sequence of tracks, (“Tell Me” through “Tales”), that all present an interesting deviation from the rest of the project, with interesting production quirks, nice exchanges between Cartier and producer Lantz (which I think are very sick and could be taken to a really cool place), and Cartier diving into his Old Money Playboy persona to good effect, sounding like he’s rapping into a cell phone in an airport lounge with a 3 figure drink in front of him on “One Day/Feel Away”.
The rest of the project is all technically good (save some heavy mastering), and Cartier’s delivery never falls into bad territory. The issue with much of the project is that Cartier falls somewhere in between his strengths, coming off flat and by the numbers, instead of the dramatic, crazy, and dynamic Cartier we know exists.
This comes through in the production too, with a few too many trap-by-the-numbers tracks (Featuring a liberal helping of what i’m guessing is Metro Boomin’ Hi Hat 03), accentuating the homogenous feel of the filler. Where both Lantz and Cartier fare their best is when the sound is pushed in a more interesting direction. “Stick and Move” is the best straight trap song on the project, with a minimal beat, woodblocks breaking up the familiarity of trap signifiers, good writing from Cartier in the hook and verses, and a nice songwriting flex in the final chorus. In the back half of the project, the sounds get stranger, and showcase how well Cartier and Lantz (with help from guest River Tiber) do when they deviate from trap, giving much more space and warmth in a way that Cartier knows how to utilize. This offers an interesting deviation from the rest of the project, with interesting production quirks, nice exchanges between Cartier and producer Lantz (which I think are very sick and could be taken to a really cool place), and Cartier diving into his Old Money Playboy persona to good effect, sounding like he’s rapping into a cell phone in an airport lounge with a 3 figure drink in front of him on “One Day/Feel Away”. Also need to give major props to soundcloud-only track “How We Do It”, which opens with a sample flip that made me burst out laughing, and is hard enough that I was smiling the whole way through.
While Hotel Paranoia is not the triumphant follow up the marketing may have suggested, there are good tracks on here. The real issue is that by extending what should have been a solid 9 song release, the album is made to feel redundant and underwhelming. Both Cartier and Lantz have demonstrated they have vision and talent, and with a growing fan base, they also have the means to really stretch themselves. While not fully realized, the potential is here, and although I’ll definitely find myself faded and moshing to tracks of this project, it falls short of what both Cartier and Lantz are capable of.
Written by B. McCoy, who refuses to play the social media game.