Bari & VZN Blur the Cypher w/ the Cyber for Experimentally Galactic 'Layer Cake'
Evan Dale // Oct 4, 2020
‘My goal was to leave no doubt about me as an artist. My goal was to earn my respect from the people by workin through music. I ain’t a fan of all the other things that come with this I jus really love creating.’
Even though, undoubtedly, as these very words are typed, they’re contributing to the ‘other things’ that Bari isn’t a fan of when it comes to releasing his craft, it’s nonetheless worth reaffirming that there are no doubts about his artistry. Instead, his is perhaps the most well-established, confident exploration of hip-hop at its most experimentally futurist. The St. Louis rapper is so much more than the simple delineation grants him, and to understand that fully, the only way is to listen.
Layer Cake lives up to its name strongest when the person listening, too, understands the brash challenges and attention to detail involved in crafting the highlight at the bake shop: the particularities, the invention, the craft, the art, and of course, the frosting. Not only is the album – his third full-length delivery since the onset of 2019 behind MSTRGLSS & Neva Look Back – every bit as confectionary as to be expected from one of hip-hop’s boldest up-and-comers; it’s shining trait is its experimentalism at an even further push than Bari’s already risk-laden canon.
‘I pray this project makes a mark I jus want to push the envelope forward without ever forgetting the greatness the game and artists have already gave us. F*@k It.. Burn It All Down.’
The ‘Burn it all down’ kind of sentiment in his sound is undoubtedly something a fan hears when listening for the first time. It’s easy to tell that the texture is birthed from the deep trenches of hip-hop’s storied history and trap’s more recent run. But Bari has long been anti-establishmentarian in his aesthetic, weaving addinctingly melodic hooks in and out of clever wordplay, always overtop production tethered by its affinity for the otherworldly. Even when weighed against the brazenly creative canon of Bari’s past, even when weighed against the greatness the game and artists have already given us, Layer Cake is different. And that’s because – hand-in-hand with a more refined sense of his own sound – having VZN onboard as producer through Layer Cake’s entirety successfully unearths a special sort of fluidity from the beginning of the vibey collection to its end. It’s a sense of cohesion that even Bari’s well-curated predecessors can’t boast, let alone many wordsmiths, producers, and their collaborative efforts to come before Layer Cake.
VZN and Bari are nothing of not cohesive. The producer has been a foundational figure of the rapper’s sound before, crafting singles towards Layer Cake’s release – like Fuchsia & Fingerprints – and a handful of inclusions from Neva Look Back. But, being attached to each and every corner of a sound’s patchwork identity for a full-length album can yield unparalleled results. And as far as rapper-producer relationships go, theirs is, too, nearly unparalleled. Think Freddie Gibbs & Madlib for Piñata & Bandana; Think Smino & Monte Booker for Blkswn; Bari & VZN are creating at that level of decadent invention with Layer Cake with a mutual sound hand-crafted for one another.
Through it, a deeply experimental, electronically nuanced trap precedent never ceases to drive a wave-making marriage between the cypher and the cyber. Subsequently, Layer Cake emerges as the only keystone thesis on a Cyber Trap cut that both artists seem to be in constant chase of. It’s hip-hop for future generations inhabiting another planet. And yet, when listened to here and now, it thrives anyway. In a hip-hop scene in search for constant newness, boldness, and wide-ranging risks, Layer Cake exists at the zenith of its most experimental lane.
Even so, the album is a comfortable listen. Its heavily melodic direction ensures that it’s a bouncy, light-hearted 40 minutes that when backdropping a party leaves everyone in high-energy high spirits, while Bari’s fluctuating usage of his many varied deliveries also ensure that a listener listening deeply is immersed in the mosaic of artistic differentiation with which Bari has long been refining his one-of-a-kin sound. The melody, the sung, the rapped, the lyrical. All of it exists in unique balance with the St. Louis rapper who transcends everything that modern hip-hop offers. His range is to the extent that anyone listening to Bari for the first time would never believe that Layer Cake has no accompanying features, and that Bari himself represents the multi-tiered genius of it all.
Towards the album release, he and VZN’s first single eventually to be included on the tracklist was Con Artist. And taking the project as a piecemeal of differentiated looks into the balance in Bari’s range, Con Artist is the best example of his deep-toned, quick cadenced rap delivery. Overtop a juxtaposing beat made of high-ranging keystrokes and synth play, Bari opts for the low to divulge Layer Cake’s most lyrically endowed moment. It’s a specific delivery that comes into play time and time again throughout the project, interwoven with a slew of further range. In so many ways, Bari exists in multiple aesthetic spaces at once. Essentially providing the features on his own tracks, his mosaic of differing, complimentary deliveries varying in their makeup rapped and melodied, build towards a sound that no collaborative effort, let alone one artist, brings to fruition in modern hip-hop.
And though the full scope of that range is perhaps on most balanced display with Layer Cake’s closing Fuchsia, other tracks dive into specific versions of Bari’s many selves with fervor. Lakefront is a hype hymn of braggadocio. QT is an unapologetic exploration of Bari’s knack for bringing the falsetto the rap hook. Endure is a hypno-galactic melodic anthem that takes the sung adlibbing à la Travis Scott to a new level. Metroton is an addictingly bouncy thesis on autotune. Each track boasts a description more unique and inventive than the last. And yet, Layer Cake as a whole is tethered akin by the energy brought from Bari and the vibe curated by VZN.
Hard-hitting rap verses, melodic hooks, addicting wordplay. Interstellar keystrokes, trap bass, parrying synths and chimes. Together, Bari and VZN draw a blueprint for what the future of hip-hop, perhaps in other solar systems, could come to sound like by the unapologetically risk-taking nature of music’s boldest artistry. Layer Cake is most masterful in its exploration of what has never been explored before.