For long-time fans of the Joe Budden Podcast, no moment in modern podcast history was more significant than when Joe fired Rory during Episode 437, “You Want It To Be One Way.” Not that Rory and Mal (also a former JBP co-host) didn’t land on their feet; their subsequent podcast, New Rory & Mal, is wildly successful.
However, none of those pod-politics should be on your mind or sway your decision to press play on Rory’s latest venture, I Thought It’d Be Different. The13-song melting pod of Hip Hop, alt-pop and R&B (leaning more so on the latter two) is an introduction to Rory’s ear for curation, and contrary to the bulk of modern day compilations from celebrities, Rory shows he has solid taste. In other words, Rory doesn’t sing or rap, but he doesn’t make half assed compilations like Lebron James, either.
The culmination of a three-year odyssey, and first teased in 2022 with the single “I Want You But You’ll Never Know” featuring Shelley FKA DRAM and Alex Isley, the project sports an incredible set of artists and producers–from legends like Bink! (who co-produces the project’s most Hip Hop moment, “Sobering Thoughts From The Mondrian” for TDE rapper Reason) to Rory himself, who wrote and co-produced throughout.
Heartbreak, failed relationships, betrayal, and unrequited love are just some of the themes of the LP — and not necessarily in a linear arc. Rory initially noted early last year that most of the album was based on studio conversations about the unravelling of personal lives. While this isn’t revolutionary (“Groundbreaking, I know, no one has ever done that before,” he said himself when speaking about his approach), it’s handled with care.
Curating a project that incorporates multiple genres meshed with Hip Hop is risky, clashing styles can turn a well-intentioned experiment into unlistenable mush. This could have been the fate of the Conway The Machine featured song alongside L.A. alt-pop trio Hablot Brown “See How This Thing Goes.” And yet, despite the strange crossover it works quite well.
Over the funky, upbeat instrumental produced by Rory and Hablot Brown’s Austin Daniel Brown, Conway’s wordplay compliments Hablot’s smooth vocals, adding to the overall vibe, spitting to a female love interest with bars like, “Your love, I can’t escape from, but you my secret though… Well, not a secret, but keep shit low.”
The same can be said for Jay Electronica, who sparkles alongside Reggie on “Enough,” a funky track produced by Rory, Pierre-Luc Rioux, xSDTRK and Azad Right.
The greatest charm of this LP is that it avoids a trap that many curated projects fall into; from Kawhi Leonard to DJ Khaled, many curators attempt to stack big names into various equations that — on paper — equal success. While it’s proven itself a winning formula, it more often than not equates to a disposable product.
Long-time fans appreciate Rory’s taste in music — and he’s been his platform to put us onto acts. With this LP, he balances artists everyone knows (Ari Lennox, Phonte, etc.) with names that he feels we should know.
For example, the soulful “King” is a duet by KIRBY (an incredible vocalist known as the singing voice of SWARM’s NI’Jah has writing credits on “FourFiveSeconds” by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney) and the super talented C.S. Armstrong, a protégée of the legendary Dr. Dre.
The gem “Not Me” produced by Jordon Manswell, Rory, Allen Ritter and super-producer Nineteen85—who crafted Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and “One Dance“— features two Toronto-based singers who share a connection to critically acclaimed dvsn. RAAHiiM was a backup singer for the group, while criminally underrated Shantel May (check out her single with Westside Gunn) was featured on the group’s A Muse in Her Feelings.
Fittingly, dvsn also appears on the project with a way too short interlude.
This project isn’t a game-changing shift in the musical landscape, neither thematically nor in its execution. But it’s an incredibly consistent, meticulously well-sequenced amalgamation of artists. Its creation was unrushed and organic; Rory and those who helped bring this to fruition built, vibed and had an experience instead of simply receiving checks and phoning in a hot 16.
I Thought It’d Be Different is set up to leave listeners with some new favorite artists, which is pretty magical during a time where collab tapes rarely put people on, instead usually used as scams to cram 500+ artists on a mixtape five people will listen to.
In a sea of late spring releases, Rory manages to kickstart this new chapter of his career with a project that’s smooth delivery sets the mood on a summer night.