Everyone’s criteria for success is different. Some measure it by financial numbers, while others decide when they’ve made it in far less tangible ways. redveil hasn’t become a star quite yet, but his last two albums were so warmly received by fans and peers alike that, if judged by artistic merit, you could absolutely call them worthy achievements. Both Niagara and learn 2 swim were heavy in subject matter, but the brisk lightweight energy the Maryland rapper tackled his stark subjects with deterred fans from realizing he couldn’t drink a beer legally yet. At such a young age, redveil shouldn’t have to deal with the heaviness of life in such harrowing detail, so it’s only natural that his next project, playing w/ fire, is lighter in tone, allowing the PG County teen to kick back and get a vacation from worrying about the ills of society.
The first ten seconds of “stuck,” the opening track, sets a bright tone to let redveil celebrate his victories. Monte Booker’s production is a slow build — it doesn’t drop or change, but its triumphant horns and soaring vocals (courtesy of redveil’s sister) transform a single man’s party into a joyous family affair.
In exchange for his newfound boastful energy, redveil trades in some of the depth that made his earlier raps so gripping. There aren’t as many layers on playing w/ fire, but it doesn’t strip him of his solid ear for beats. “Giftbag” uses a simple set of keys to continue the festive theme the opener’s tone sets. redveil doesn’t touch on any topics worth thinking deeply about, but his hook adequately paints how little he cares about fake people and small talk. It’s a bit cliché, since every rapper has made a song about it, and veil adds nothing new or insightful to the tired topic, but at least he sounds self-assured.
The shimmering bounce on “f2g” plays out like a teenager fresh out of high school showing up late to his prom. The lyrics are weightless and overzealous in his quest to be as carefree as possible. “Found out karma’s a bitch, and can’t cover up with tattoos all the things you been through.” But even some bitter cheekiness is more interesting than hearing three minutes of constant flaunting.
Out of the six songs on the EP, only one feels like a true statement. “Black enuff,” with JPEGMAFIA, sounds like a distorted music class at summer camp that redveil uses to squash anyone’s qualms about his Blackness. “In the sun, I ain’t black enough / Oh, some funds got him actin’ up,” he raps on the hook taking full offense to anyone questioning his identity. Where the other tracks find redveil in a more pleasant mood, this one shows he’s still harboring some resentment.
No one should be barred from experimenting with more relaxed and joyful music — redveil’s earned his break. He can effectively make this type of music and his taste in production is still as particular as ever, but his laidback attitude doesn’t add much more to his ever-growing lore. Instead, it reads as him tinkering with finding more high energy cuts to play at his live shows.
playing w/ fire proves he’s trying new things as an artist and showcases a desire for versatility. But, in switching up his sound, he runs into some growing pains caused by stepping outside his comfort zone, resulting in a breezy EP that feels more like accomplishing a lengthy side-quest as opposed to the next entry in redveil’s main storyline.