Hip-hop is surprisingly malleable in the right hands. It’s born from experience and intimate emotion, obviously the kind of things that fuel intense introspection and musical spontaneity. But for the music to create any sort of connection with it audience, it must be shaped and molded carefully, allowed to bloom and evolve on its own terms. Chattanooga musician Calee understands that rap music works best when given free rein to shift perspective when necessary and approach its underlying ideologies in ways that are often unclear or fraught with tumultuous feelings.
He admires the larger hip-hop sphere of influence but deals with detailed musical moments that exist within this larger framework. Finding pop and R&B beats that he can maneuver around, he lays out a complex and compelling picture of hip-hop as bridging device, a way of connecting different viewpoints into a larger rhythmic environment. In this way, the genre is able to be adapted by anyone willing to pour themselves into its depths—and there is plenty of unexplored space here for someone looking to challenge the expectations of what rap music can be.
On his latest record, “1510,” he pushes further into the elemental haze of hip-hop, searching for the foundation that holds it all together while establishing his own identity. These songs incorporate delicate piano lines, woozy synths, striking percussive compositions and a lyrical swagger that belies its hesitant emotional center. Opening with the self-referential “It’s Calee,” the album strikes a perfect balance between experiential wisdom and blatant braggadocio, an equilibrium that swings between powerful self-analysis and the consequences of embracing a full-tilt id.
Songs like “Give It to Me” and “Don’t Deserve” highlight his talent for pop presentation, while “Sick” is a moody, beat-heavy track that recalls the grime and hiss of mid-’90s rap. “Let Me Vent” uses hand claps, electric guitar and keys to speed Calee to some personal revelation as he reveals a need to purge turbulent inner voices and emotions—it’s a hybrid of the blues and hip-hop and is hypnotic in its aspirations. Closing song “Validation” features local artist Swayyvo and is among the best on the record, reminiscent as it is of the sounds you’d find on early Outkast albums. “1510” is built from wild rhythmic juxtapositions and feels weighted without being burdened by its influence. It’s a perfect example of the creativity and innovation pouring out of Chattanooga.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.