Back to the future with Stro: Is he the next phase of rap?

Music has changed a lot since I began really following the scene. Growing up, in a West Indian household, the things that I heard were more Caribbean-influenced than anything else, but I had an affinity for the radio. The radio was a portal that transported me to a place where I could listen to an endless amount of music, where one song very rarely sounded like the other. Over time, it became clear that record companies were hell bent on recreating sounds that were garnering tremendous success, in order for their own artists to gain traction with listeners and, ultimately, make them lots of money .

I was a pre-teen in that era: the nineties. And hip hop was an explosion to me. My brother would bring home albums like “The Coming” (Busta Rhymes) and “Life After Death” (The Notorious B.I.G.); cohesive bodies of work made by incredible artists, and they opened my mind to the creativity that rap was about to usher onto the music scene. I hit the ground running and I started assembling my own collection of music. Q-Tip’s “Amplified”, Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP”, and Mos Def’s “Black On Both Sides” were just a few of the albums that I collected.  I came to admire those artists for their wit, wordplay, and wisdom.

Fast forward to the year 2018, and mainstream hip-hop is no longer a collection of hungry poets, looking to showcase their lyrical prowess, and be considered King of Rap. In fact, the genre has taken a more melodic turn, with a host of artists becoming household names based on catchy hooks and strategic crooning (The Migos, Young Thug, etc...).  Focus has shifted from the words, to the sounds. One can view this as a regression but I tend to believe that this is a necessary evolution for a style of music that is, by far, the youngest of the bunch.

The fusing of these evolutionary happenings has created an interesting artist, on the precipice of success: Brian Vaughn Bradley Jr., better known as Stro (Formerly Astro, or The Astronomical Kid). Many know Stro from his being a contestant on the first season of the X Factor in 2011, but he has been diligently honing his craft for many years, since his big break. After releasing a slew of projects, over the past 7 years, Stro recently inked a deal with Mass Appeal, under the helm of one of his idols, the iconic rapper Nas. With a new deal comes a new project, and Stro definitely does not disappoint.

“Nice 2 Meet You, Again” comes in at 8 tracks and really feels like a breath of fresh air, in the current hip-hop climate. I’ve always enjoyed Stro’s lyrical ability but his sound is clearly maturing. He is a sort of relic of the past, combining an affinity for current sounds that have been embraced by the music industry. He has refined his delivery, while not compromising his message and, in doing so, I believe that there is something for everyone, on this project. N2MYA gave me a bit of early nineties nostalgia, while remaining sonically current, and eclectic. Standouts, for me, were “Mindblown”, “Bullshit”, “Room”, “Holy Vibes”, and “Testing”. Basically, the entire EP. Based on the percentage of songs that I would play again, I have to give this project high marks. All in all, this is a wonderful project and a worthy reintroduction to the masses by a lyricist that has always held the art form near to his heart. Wherever you are, take a second to vibe to the wordplay, along with the sonics that envelope it all, and welcome Stro back, with open arms.

Stephan George is a Montreal based writer.