Night Lovell’s ‘I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY’ is the Penultimate Stamp of the Emo Rap Kingpin’s Influence
Evan Dale // Dec 29, 2023
It’s been more than two years since Night Lovell released an album, but with his latest, I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY – a title that feels innately sarcastic – the emo rap kingpin spins murderous allegory and trunk-rattling bass into a mosaic of nostalgia that ties reminiscence on golden era hip-hop to a bombardment of emotionally unstable motifs drenched in early oughts alt. His aesthetic is rare, not because it builds a bridge between two scenes which aren’t necessarily at odds, however differentiated they may be from their sounds to the audiences; but rather because he does so with deft authenticity. It’s not easy to really pull in a collage of subculture and misfits without connecting in a way that is impossible to fake, but Night Lovell’s at-this-point well-documented, and trailblazing signature is largely to thank for the decade-long rise of a modern rap-punk-emo transcendence that pays proper homage to all its roots, and captures the angst-ridden scope of his many scenes’ connective tissue.
Jimmy Butler’s pre-season portrait get-up would be the AI-generated archetype for I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY’s target audience. A Lip-piercing with hoop dreams, the only thing the album is missing is a Midwest inspired, Spooky Black featured cover of Swing Life Away. Oh – and a Catalan pronunciation of Ibiza on EYE SPY would have gone a long way, too.
But beyond that, no notes. The album is definitive of Night Lovell, and of the emo rapscape he so vitriolically lords over, and quite frankly, helped really bring into its modern form. “I’m angry, bitch…” he spouts off at EYE SPY’s lead-in. Yeah, no shit. But it’s the focused intensity of that anger – and some intermittent, unapologetic, and expected sad-boy energy to go with it – for thirty minutes straight, that makes I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY his most cohesive work to date.
And that praise doesn’t come lightly. His debut album, 2014’s Concept Vague, transported all his listeners into the foggy, dark woods outside Ottawa where his early videos were shot. His debut was an introduction not only to the melancholia drenched with poisonous braggadocio that has since defined his underlying artistry, but also to the larger effect it would go on to have on hip-hop.
2019’s Goodnight Lovell stands as another zenith of his dark creativity. Twisted nursery rhyme and dark, bass-laden production stood as an ode to his continued growth, and to the evolution of the still-budding scene he helped build. A horror film scored by rap of the internet era.
By the time of that release, it felt as though if hip-hop had emerged from Vivienne Westwood’s London rather than late a 70’s Bronx, its most celebrated modern form would have evolved into Night Lovell. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY is penultimate by way of that vision. It’s a climactic, triumphant exhibition of his own vision come to life, and here to stay, as a hip-hop shadow realm, albeit still very much pop-adjacent sphere on the genre’s vast gradient.
It's Doc Martin rap, at just the right time, when both the boots, and the subcultures they’re tied with are more prominently posturing than they have been in recent memory. And it also comes as Night Lovell has entered his to-this-point final form, mastering the juxtaposition between his immensely violent braggadocio and depressingly downtrodden musings in a way that never feels forced, always feels authentic, and pulls his music – from his beats and his lyricism to his flow and his vocals – in multiple directions at once, without ever losing his grip on the album’s direction, and without ever propelling forward the experimental risks required for music at large to continue evolving.
Back-alley cigarette trap for the heartbroken and angsty, I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY is a culminative exclamation point on the emo rap era by one of its most elusive, creative warlocks. Night Lovell, as he has been for nearly a decade, continues to be one of the more uniquely influential forces on hip-hop and its intertangled, indefinable orbit of concentric circles, defying stylistic definition at a grandiose scale, and making us all lean a little further into our emotions – especially the negative ones.