Castle is refreshingly a bit of an anti-cool. He kind of sounds like a deadbeat sometimes, and while he’s been written up as penning “I don’t give a fuck music,” that’s just his gritty front. Prior to signing with and releasing an album on Mello Music Group last year, he was also relatively quiet. Return of the Gasface is a testament to the label again as well, not only for commissioning some smart internal matchmaking, but also for believing in the rapper’s Gasface to begin with. That album, which appeared on HipHopDX’s The Top Projects We Missed list last year, was his self-produced debut for MMG. The Return is welcome, though it flips the original into much more than a remix, as Castle has pocketed the lyrics and returned to the booth for Has-Lo’s production. The effect is that it is a new original, and beyond the prospect of simply promoting a second run, it’s arguably a better introduction to the rapper than the first.
“Lighten Up” is one of the early and better glimpses of Castle’s knack for rattling off somber introspection. Has-Lo’s production is mostly anchored in chopped up Soul, but here he builds a horn and piano loop that’s both smooth and menacing. “The story of my life’s about nothin’ / Love is the red herring / Money is the MacGuffin,” Castle raps in his forward baritone. It’s references like that film trope, highbrow but left behind with ease, that the rapper himself imitates criticism for on “Findalivin” (“True your shit is hard but it’s way too inaccessible”). On that song, a smoother and more characteristic example of the album’s music, Castle hones in on the feigned criticism. “Pop rappers chastising, claim that I don’t stack enough / Art rappers chastising, claim that I don’t tap enough / Potential,” he raps before alluding to similar industry “back and forth’s” as “probably why Jay Electro moved to Bristol.” Obviously it’s hard to believe either Pop rappers or Art rappers are chastising Castle as they aren’t aware of him yet. But if they were (and if they cared), that is probably a fair takeaway. Beyond his technical skill, Castle is full of weird personality—“hugging the block” and slacker intellectualism at the same time.
Throughout the album Castle jumps from full-out concept songs that suit his awkward obscurity—imagining himself as a Punisher-like figure on a gritty Hip Hop scene on “Ballad of Frank Grimes”—to broke down relationship woes on “All That Counts.” Transitioning from the sample fodder to synthy minimalism, the song is a highlight of the rapper’s unexpected openness: “Call herself ‘bored’ so she’s packing up and leaving / Never cheated / Always given you respect, and that’s a weakness?” There are a couple tracks that fall flat in comparison like “We Here Though,” with both verses and production served up with less character. Still, with the project jumping around, it’s hard to put too much weight on a couple skippable efforts.
The Return also isn’t overly bogged down or ambitious in its scope, even when it gets tense. Castle has a zany irony about himself and the world that allows him to broach bleakness without taking himself too seriously. It’s a rewarding listen with much of his dark humor and meditation bubbling beneath, quirks and clever turns of phrases always around the corner. Because of the re-approach there’s an obvious chemistry and versatility to the producer/emcee duo, and the revisit was absolutely worth it. Castle is the good kind of unknown as he’s fully realized as an artist. At least artistically, Mello Music’s bet has paid off. If either the rapper or the album fail to gain much traction, it’s easy consolation that he’s not fitting in for all the right reasons.