Album Review: Bobby Hustle - Proof of Concept
by Steve Topple
2015 seems like a lifetime ago when Bobby Hustle released his debut album, It’s The Hustle. Eight-years and two EPs later, and his sophomore release is finally here – showing it’s been well worth the wait.
Proof of Concept, released via Bobby Hustle Music/Loud City, sees Hustle team up with two-times Grammy nominated production duo Loud City - Daniel Fuller Grossman and Michael Bruce Gore. The former did most of the production and engineering on the album, giving a rich, textured, and enigmatic sound to the project. The gorgeous cover art by Ras Elijah Tafari is also noteworthy. However, what stands out most is the homage to the album’s title – because the album encapsulates Hustle’s concept of merging the worlds of both Jamaican and Cali Roots Reggae – also bringing in Loud City’s EDM sensibilities.
Proof of Concept opens with Rock My Boat, a previously released track which sees Hustle sum up the album’s velocity perfectly: sitting in that middle ground between Jamaican and Cali Roots. The former’s usual musical suspects are there, including a dominant bubble rhythm – but then Cali comes in with smooth, intricate chord progressions, EDM-influence across the synth instrumentation, and a flowing, ethereal overall sound. Gorgeous.
The previously released Reggae Days also does similar – expanding on the use of synth instruments, including shrill horns, but here the sound is stripped back slightly to focus more on the starker Jamaican sound (but with an undeniable dollop of Cali). Mountain featuring the legendary Mikey General (again previously released) moves away from Cali entirely – taking Proof of Concept to an Old Skool Jamaican Roots/Dub sound - complete with samples, an attractively-arranged horn section, and an excellent Dancehall bridge. Hustle and General are perfectly paired together, and the track works really well.
Right Now featuring Loud City again leans towards Jamaican Roots – including a brilliant performance from Daniel Halligan on the sax: full of human vocal-like attention to detail in terms of peaking and troughing dynamics, staccato-to-legato phrasing, and use of vibrato. Also note the keen engineering, including nicely rhythmic reverb. Then, Loyal To The Soil sees the incomparable Lutan Fyah come on board with Loud City – returning the sound to that Jamaican-Cali fusion. There’s lovely use of chipmunk vocals, the track smoothly sways along well – and Fyah is on-point; a great collab for Hustle, here.
Lifeline is another gorgeous offering – focusing on some traditional Reggae devices, while honing in on Cali (cue more attractive chord progressions and fluid production). The guitar is particularly pleasing, whining and bending gloriously – and the track is one of the stronger ones off Proof of Concept. A guitar also features heavily on Love Me Like You Do, here performed with aplomb by Kyle Ahern but in a distinctly different style – that rasping Rock sound more associated with earlier Jamaican Roots. He executes it perfectly, and the sharper Lovers Rock tone here, coupled with Cali EDM flourishes (that chipmunk vocal is back) are nicely done.
Mash Up, again with Loud City, sees the sound switch slightly – metaphorically doing what it says on the tin. Hip Hop-esque drums enter the fray, while some Reggae sensibilities remain – and those lovely Cali chord progressions flip between major and minor keenly. The light-touch Day Off plays into an acoustic-style Reggae sound that merges elements of something Folksy with a Dancehall bridge, while Francis Kweku Osei’s drums are driven and move away from a traditional one drop.
Stay High with the always-perfect Perfect Giddimani and Loud City moves the sound on Proof of Concept forward again, driving up the BPM with more mashing-up of the drum arrangement to a harder sound, coupled with intricate arrangements across the sax and synths – and some dynamic singjay from Giddimani. The previously released Lightning Strike (once more with Loud City) features gorgeous backing vocals by Stephanie Hava, which complement Hustle’s perfectly. The brooding sound is sample-heavy, EDM-influenced, and very ominous – again, another stand-out of Proof of Concept.
City Lights features the talents of Jamaica’s Koro Fyah. It’s Dub-laced, stark, EDM synth-driven, and filled with peaking and troughing of instrumental arrangement – creating a fluid sound that washes across your speakers. Fyah is an attractive talent, and his engaging singjay is a pleasure to hear. Free Up with Loud City was previously released and sees Halligan’s sax return in perfect form. It takes Proof of Concept back to Jamaica, with some summery, fresh vibes. Stay Ready features Loud City and maintains this more Jamaican sound.
Proof of Concept concludes with As Good As It Seems. It’s a wholly fitting conclusion, serving as the most eclectic track of the album. A Dancehall rhythmic clave dominates; the first time it does this across an entire track. Then, Reggae musical devices like a bubble rhythm feature; EDM drops by with the engineering and arrangement; Rock guitars rasp in the background, and an Indian sitar takes centre stage, performing a secondary vocal line. It’s a gorgeous, well-though out-and executed track – and a superb closing statement.
What Proof of Concept also does is cement Hustle’s status as a dextrous vocalist and skilled lyricist. Vocally, he follows the now-great tradition of the Cali Roots sound – like his peers Jah Sun, Josh Heinrichs et al – by taking lyrical and melodic inspiration from Jamaican singjay and merging it with something straighter vocal in terms of phrasing, timbre, and style. His performances are very pleasing - showing a sound vocal range, attractive use of dynamics, and a well-controlled voice.
Lyrically, Proof of Concept is a strong, social-rallying album filled with important messages that Hustle has delivered engagingly. Amid the lighter tracks like the Lovers-inspired Love Me Like You Do and the meandering Day Off, there’s songs like Mash Up, discussing how the system is designed to corrupt and grind us down. Multiple tracks feature commentary around cannabis, while others like Loyal To The Soil discusses staying humble to your roots, both geographic, social, and personal. Mountain delivers a message of spiritual resilience in the face of adversity, while Lightning Strike discusses how the system entrenches violence and suffering in society. And the album’s closer, As Good As It Seems, is a moving and thoughtful introspective on life, love, and career.
Overall, Proof of Concept is a searing, evocative, and cleverly constructed project from Hustle and Loud City. Musically deft, it blurs the lines between Jamaica and Cali, as per the assignment, perfectly – and has established the foundations for Hustle to be one of the most exciting artists to emerge from the US West Coast scene in recent years.
Bobby Hustle - Proof Of Concept
DIGITAL RELEASE [Bobby Hustle Music, Loud City Music]
Release date: 08/18/2023
01. Rock my Boat
02. Reggae Days
03. Mountain feat. Mikey General
04. Right Now
05. Loyal To The Soil feat. Lutan Fyah
07. Love Me Like You Do
08. Mash Up
09. Day Off
10. Stay Ready
11. Lightning Strike
12. City Lights feat. Koro Fyah
13. Free Up
14. Stay High feat. Perfect Giddimani
15. As Good As It Seems