To this point, Asaad—considering the fact that he’s still a widely unrecognized rapper—has a solid, extensive catalog of music. In 2009, he debuted with his Flowers mixtape which introduced him as charismatic eighteen-year-old rapping over soulful production about teenage shit: girls, weed and having fun. In 2011, he dropped Dirty Middle Class where he became more adrenalized in his delivery, sharper in his raps and more diverse in his ear for production. His turning point came in 2012 with his two projects, New Black History Month and White where his attitude and force took a jump. Damn near screaming every bar, Asaad felt possessed (not in the crazy way that some may view him, but in a way that felt like he was finally releasing emotions that he’d been harboring); It was infectious. In White’s “White Out” he says, “Before T.D.E., niggas knew how to rap”, “God Flow” was a proclamation of his arrival and “Most Young Kings” was a chilling and passionate cut fueled by Asaad’s developing come up, as well. At that time, for me, Asaad was the Lupe who catered to more than just my corny side; he demonstrated intelligence and artistic curiosities with an untamed energy that saved him from seeming overly-calculated.
By the time he’d gotten around to being Saudi Money, that talent was still an undeniable force, but there was a decline in his music’s vigor. Where Asaad became more inventive with his rhyme schemes and delivery, he faltered in transparency and depth. For as many times as I’ve bumped New Black History Month II and Cold Blue (and can probably recite both in their entirety), outside of money, I can’t tell you what those projects are actually saying—besides a few songs. Yeah, there still aren’t too many tracks out there that go harder than “Holy Matri” does in the whip but what initially impressed me as an Asaad listener was the thrill of anticipating what he may put me onto next and in what way it’d be delivered. Some of that void gets filled on his rebirth-rendering, Flowers II.
Following his public falling-outs with Grande Marshall, Pusha T, his former manager and non-rapper friends, Flowers II answers the bell with moments of insight. Whether it comes in the form of backhanded jabs like at Grande “Stupid nigga signed to Fool’s Gold/ Fuck I care about a crackhead?” in “Block Boy 2.0” or admitting his inability to listen to The Clipse’s Lord Willin’ in “Angels”, there’s something to be learned about what emotionally affects Asaad in this project, unlike the bulk of his last few collections of work. One of his most captivating efforts comes on the church choir backed “Alejandro Jodorowsky Flow” where he spars with Ab-Soul’s wordplay. He comes at labels that didn’t believe in him and turncoat friends: “Niggas ran from me ‘cause they couldn’t calm my temper down/ Niggas turned they back on me. Wassup with all these fake friends?/ Only created Saudi Money because I had to make ends”. In the horn-heavy “SNE” he’s trying to fulfill his destiny and in “Cooking Dinners” he opens up about self-destructing while taking a hiatus from rap.
Flowers II’s most compelling moment comes at the backend of the project’s last song “In Tha Black Sand…”. Asaad starts off, “A lot of niggas from a year ago ain’t here now” and goes on to open up about being cut off by his parents, his former manager dropping him too quickly, fans continuously comparing him to his older music (I’m guilty of it, obviously), Atlantic Records not believing in him and Pusha T stealing from him. What separates Asaad’s execution here in comparison to the rest of the album can’t even be measured musically because it has nothing to do with what style he’s rapping in and everything to do with what he’s saying and how he’s delivering it. The near-scream rapping he does on White reappears here and at times, you find yourself questioning whether or not Asaad is crying; it feels real. I find myself getting mad at Pusha T when I’m listening to the song and that’s completely dictated by Asaad’s emotion.
For all of Flowers II’s positives, its Achilles heel is that, more times than not, “In The Black Sand…”’s pathos isn’t penetrated throughout. “Block Boy 2.0”, while it is a good song to bounce to and gets a verse from King Louie, is Asaad at one vocal level. It doesn’t stimulate any feeling. That’s also the case with songs that’d otherwise be great. “Angels” is arguably the project’s most weighted track as it touches on the conflicts that come with gentrification in Philly, the pain that comes with loss, and his push to become a better person but it’s offset by Asaad’s lackluster hook which repeats the “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” prayer. The rap-for-sport “Womp” is another case where Asaad—while showcasing his lyrical capabilities—seems to be just cruising. On the production and mechanical side, Asaad has never been sharper than he is on this album but there are too many instances where it feels like he’s being safe. For a guy who, for a long time, people have thought was insane because of his Twitter rants and constant squabbles with people within music, it seems like Asaad is restraining himself in order to not fuck up a second chance at seeing his dreams materialize. And if that’s true, it’s a disheartening circumstance for someone who can be a legitimate voice for unwavering self-expression.