At the start of April, hip-hop artist M. J. Meyers dropped a 7-track album called Hollow Shell of a Better Man (A Painful Representation of an Unsatisfying Existence).
Hollow Intro is how M. J. Meyers chose to start this 7-track body of work. In the 35 second intro, you can hear spacey, mysterious music with his voice over the top. He talks through these 35 seconds, telling the listener what topics will be strongly prevalent in the album; mainly mental health issues.
The first line of the track is “The last few months have seen me spiral down a deep and dark depression” and he then goes on to urge listeners to have an open mind when listening to this album, rather than just laugh at his vulnerability and brush it off without giving this creative work a chance. I really like the choice of music for this intro track, as it sounds exactly how you’d think just from reading the song and album titles; hollow. Furthermore, his voice during this intro also has a hollow, echoey sound to it.
This smoothly transitions into the second tune on the album, Hollow Shell, which starts with minimal instruments and sounds, but then about half a minute into it we can hear it go up a notch with a great trap beat that M. J. Meyers soon starts rapping over. It doesn’t take long before we hear the topic of mental health come up, as the first verse contains the line “I didn’t wanna lose my mind but now I’ve gone insane”. After the first chorus, we get a surprise… and I mean a surprise. Out of absolutely nowhere, we hear a 40-second-long guitar solo that sounds like it’s straight out of the late 1960s. It’s the type of guitar solo you’d expect on a psychedelic rock album, something from Hendrix or a more modern psych artist like Ty Segall, perhaps. I’m sure that if you came into this album without knowing what to expect - or if you expected a basic hip-hop and trap album – you had the same surprised yet impressed look on your face at this point in the song. This is seriously impressive. To be able to drop a crazy guitar solo in the middle of a hip-hop tune, and have it sound like it belongs there whilst also being noticeably strange in such a song, is a very good skill to possess.
The third tune on the album, Bad History, is the one that M. J. Meyers released as a single back in February this year, and I can certainly see why. I’ve listened to this tune just a few times in my entire life, and already I seem to be singing along with it whenever I give it another listen. It was the perfect choice for the single track to get people excited for the album; its catchy chorus offers a fascinating and clever juxtaposition with the lyrics “I wanna remove my heart, it’s killing me”, when the heart’s job is to keep us alive, of course. This is very witty song writing. This chorus also does something else that I enjoy, in that it sounds quite happy and upbeat in how it’s sang, which contrasts heavily with the dark and depressing lyrics being sang. This is a technique I’ve been a fan of for a while, and the Beatles have a few tunes that use this technique, including Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. In the first verse, M. J.
Meyers refers to himself as his real name, Mason, opening himself up to the listener and allowing himself to be vulnerable, which is a very refreshing thing to see and hear. Mason asks a lot of deep, existential questions in this song, including “can good come from a man that’s inherently bad?”. The second verse asks five questions on the topics of trauma, regret, and doomed destiny. The repeated use of questions in this track emphasises Mason’s feelings of uncertainty. The lyrics in this song are incredibly well-written. Look again at that second verse, for example; the idea is clearly to ask several questions, but to be able to do this successfully without the rhymes sounding awkward and forced is a handy skill to have.
It can be the difference between a good and an ‘alright’ song. Mason clearly has a large vocabulary and he’s mastered the art of intricately choosing the right words to use in the right places. This tune does, however, end on quite an optimistic note. We hear some psychedelic guitar once again, with Mason talking over the top of it. In the outro of this tune, he’s talking in the sort of way you’d talk with a therapist when trying to figure your problems out. He says “maybe there’s a good chance that I’m actually doing better than I thought”, and he has somewhat of a breakthrough; “maybe I’ve got this, I think I’ve got this.”
The next tune, Dunno Why, starts with some soft and light piano and M. J. Meyers rapping about his feelings of regret about losing a past lover. This track is the first of two collaborations on this album, with Violetta coming in to sing on the choruses. Her voice is smooth and easy on the ear, which really fits the vibe of this tune, as it’s much quieter than others on the album so Mason made a good decision by having her sing on this song rather than another. We also hear a scene from Only Fools and Horses sampled in this tune, with just some piano in the background. It’s a sad and emotional speech from Del boy about his feelings. Del boy expresses his feelings of sadness about the fact that nobody ever thinks about how he feels, which hinders him from getting in touch with his own emotions. This may be another method for Mason to express how he feels himself.
Die 22 has a strong trap beat over which M. J. Meyers raps pessimistic and hard-hitting lyrics about people messing with his head. The chorus, sang by Cheshire musician, Rob, focusses on the line “I wanna die at 22”, which brings the topic of mental health right to the very surface and launches it into the listeners’ ears like a rocket being launched into space.
The penultimate track on the album, Better Man, is more what you’d expect from a trap/rap album, with much more rapping and less singing than other songs. The chorus is another catchy one though as it has a memorable rhythm to it. Ominous sirens blurt out towards the end of the song, adding to the high-pitched, spooky-sounding sound effects. Along with the sirens, the last lyrics of the song mention that Mason was feeling much worse in the past and now feels somewhat better, going on to say “it might not be my time to shine but it ain’t my time to go”, representing a sort of middle ground of not thriving, but not being depressed either. The way the album has gradually become more optimistic is effective in giving it a story-like feeling. It feels that Mason has been on a journey whilst recording it.
The album ends in a full circle style with Hollow Outro, in which M. J. Meyers says, in his normal speaking voice and over the top of some light piano, about how it’s been a year since he started writing and recording the album. He confirms the logic of my previous comments about it sounding like a story that has progressed through the songs, as he acknowledges that he’s a different man compared with a year ago and that he feels more hopeful about the future now. The first half of this track is him speaking, before introducing a poem that he’s written for the purpose of ending the album. I’m a fan of this poem; its ABCB rhyme scheme makes it accessible for the listeners, some of which may not be experts on poetry, but this poem is easy on the ear. As the poem progresses, the piano gains volume at certain points, adding an element of drama and urgency to the introspective lyrics of finding inner peace and starting fresh.
I didn’t know what to expect coming into this album, but I feel that it’s a refreshing and necessary body of work that many people need to hear. I hope that M. J. Meyers’ album encourages other people to speak out about their mental health and make music about it, if that works for them as part of their healing process.
Whatever your favourite genre of music, whether or not you’re into hip-hop, rap, and trap, it’s definitely worth giving this album a listen.
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Author: James Lawson