Dead Prez meets 2001-era Dre. That's the short version.
But it's clearly unfair to simplify the debut from Northern Territory rapper Birdz down to such a selective sounds-like descriptor. Equally thought-provoking and trunk-rattling, across twelve varied tracks the young rapper is an unfiltered force, dissecting all dinner conversation taboos of race, religion and divisional news op-eds down to straight-shot quotables. His no-bullshit bravado — equally scathing towards Captain Cook as other "battery-powered" rappers — is complimented in clarity by the clean Left Coast-leaning beats that do their darnedest to drag tracks from the pulpit to the dance-floor. It's a contrast between purpose and production that doesn't play out as a conflict, but rather two complimentary components, both striking with equal impact.
Over a meandering piano intro Train Of Thought starts innocently enough, a leisurely, almost "I Can Kick It" freestyle homage leads to a full-stop declaration, serving as a mantra for the album that follows: "Imma show you where my heart is." Opener, "Crown Thieves", then erupts, shifting constantly between call outs of "basic" emcees and fist-raised pride ("spirit of my ancestors, hear them as they dance with me"), alongside cleverly-worded connections between hip-hop culture and his own indigenous heritage (swapping out graffiti for rock art paintings in his own updated five elements).
From there it's a genre sampling that swaps the sorrowful Serina Pech-assisted blues of "This Side" for the stripped-back g-funk of "Ego", sharply shuffling between weed-laced trips ("Hunger Voodoo"), guitar riff-led reflection ("Rise"), Cali low-rider bumps, with a side of DJ Premier sample-scratchings ("Lessons") and even a rare coastal diversion to throwback New York boom-bap ("Misfit"). All of which is ahead of the nothing-left-on-the-table finish that finds Birdz soaring for the charts on "The Other Side" (aided in its fidelity boost by a commanding guest spot from Caiti Baker) and the album's strongest — and most direct pair — the passionate square-up of Christian missions on "Testify" and the thumping fist-raiser "Black Lives Matter", which masterfully partners frustrated, gritted-teeth rhymes with a "this shit keeps happening" chant-a-long hook and a haunting newsroll recall of the incidents which surrounded the 2004 death of indigenous teenager T.J. Hickey.
Across all these fair-reaching genre excursions Birdz' flow is equally adaptive, ranging from bluntly-delivered, space-clearing jabs ("feeling like a bastard in my motherland") to far subtler, throwaway lines ("feelin' like I wanna make an 'Ether'"), as he flips from commanding, fast-paced fury to a more conversational, wavering state, highlighting both sides of life as a young adult — world-conquering confidence and insecure vulnerability.
Train of Thought is set to be released on August 18th via Bad Apples, but is exclusively available to stream in full from today via Rolling Stone Australia.