Jerome Raheem Fortune slept in cars and on benches for a few months, curling his feet under fluorescent street lamps while figuring it out, son in tow, seducing himself into the hearts of women for places to crash. It’s the artist’s tale in America. You must be poor. You must struggle for your art. And, then, when your dues are paid and the apes who once ignored you start to pay attention the riches will come. It’s a mythology of bourgeois idealists, philosophers and so-called “great men” that you come face to face with yourself on those streets. Then, having passed your test of endurance, having gone through your warrior’s quest, your earned success awaits. But, not so fast.
That dream sequence is predicated on a few things. None looms larger than creating your great work at the end of your trials. Well, while Jerome Raheem Fortune is a less than predictable peek behind the curtain of fame, it isn’t the Atlanta rap genre pusher’s greater work. Not by a long shot.
But it is a smorgasbord. A collage of sounds and synths and vocal switches sometimes artfully pushed and sometimes button mashed. “All the Way” begins the album like a DJ set at Coachella, edging on blunt force pulsations that scream Alesso or Steve Angello. Then there’s the inexplicably catchy and equally befuddling “Blicka Blicka,” a Sesame Street-like nursery rhyme underpinned with slippery anguish. It’s also probably the most radio-ready track on the album, which is both troubling as well as deeply satisfying.
Artistically, Rome Fortune has always been a hummingbird. He’s on one flower and then off to the next, lacing each incantation with his signature charisma. It’s that characteristic that he has in spades, and the album that bears his government name is slathered in it. It’s his uncanny charm that keeps us going, moving from disco to deep house to pop in equal succession. But it isn’t enough to get the whole thing to congeal.
That fact is, maybe, a fault of we mere humans and not of the artist. Our minds seek patterns, they seek meaning. But, even so, the thread is so thin here that only a handful of artists could have pulled this off in the way Rome wanted. To create an album like a Jackson Pollock, those splashes, darts, and dots illuminated by our own minds. Even with the at times brilliant production of collaborators Kaytranda and Cubby.
Still, “Past Future” is a head-nodding coalition of cymbal-crashes that approaches mastery. And the album-anchoring “Paid Back Loans” may be the album’s zenith, with a name and chorus that resonates deeply, music that feels like Nia Long could have poeticized to it in Love Jones, and lyrics that are so desperately honest, you can’t help but wonder why the album wasn’t woven through that one narrative.