Five years ago today, Brill of Load B released his debut solo album, A Stroke of Brilliance. Since its release, him and his partner Milc have dropped three projects as a duo, but neither emcee has chosen to venture back into the solo lane, which is a shame, especially considering how strong Brill’s debut truly is. When the album first came out, I hadn’t heard of Load B, and I wouldn’t be aware of their existence until the group released their Debauchery tape a year later. Since then, I familiarized myself with the crew’s various releases, and I came to the realization that 2012 was the year Load B started to come into their own.
If one were to hop onto Datpiff and casually listen to Load B’s early projects, they sound like a different group making music in a very different era. As an artist, Brill comes off as hesitant, unsure of who he is, trying to develop his own style while simultaneously pulling from his contemporaries at the time. As a result, in addition to sounding premature, these early tapes sound incredibly dated, because although they came out in 2010, they all sound like they could have been released half a decade earlier, but I digress.
The point I’m trying to make is, over the course of two years, Brill made an incredible transformation. Whether it happened naturally or something that was premeditated, I cannot say, but his voice became gruff, which subsequently led to it demanding your attention. No longer does he sound like someone who could get lost in the myriad of artists who are trying to gain a buzz in a sea of 1,000,000 other clones. Instead, he stands out, not because he’s laughably bad, but because he gained a presence, he developed a style, and he found something to differentiate himself from his peers.
All of this culminated into the release of A Stroke of Brilliance, a 40 minute journey into the mind of a man who is hungry and eager to make a name for himself. But make no mistake, Brill is not out to provide social commentary or to make some grand, important statement on the state of the world. He’s here to make raw, uncut rap records. At its core, this album’s heart and soul is braggadocio and materialism. What separates Brill from the rest, however, is he never claims to have nice things, he’s just making it known that he wants these nice things, and for me, that transparency is appreciated. Brill doesn’t beat around the bush, either, as this disparity is made clear on the album’s title song, which kicks the entire thing off:
And it just don’t stop, wood grain, and a leather bound seat. I ain’t even gotta park this bad motherfucker, lean back, let it do that for me. Sound a little far-fetched for a nigga starting out. Oh, well, can’t a motherfucker dream?
It should be noted that Brill doesn’t spend the entire album boasting or yearning for material possessions, as there are a few instances where he goes into a song with a specific concept in mind, like “Reassurance,” “Homewrecker,” and “The Ghost of Chad Butler.” Compared to the material surrounding it, “Reassurance” is arguably the softest, most mature cut on the record, as Brill, backed by some absolutely beautiful keys and synths, takes a moment to encourage and praise the women working hard for their lot in life. Letting them know that even though there are going to be hurdles, their hard work is going to be worth it in the end.
Ironically, this tender moment leads directly into the “Rapatron Skit,” which is easily one of the clumsiest moments on the album, though the misstep is somewhat forgivable considering it leads into one of my favorite songs, “Homewrecker.” This track is a pure earworm, with a hook that will get stuck in your head for days on end. The production on this song is great, as well, as we hear Brill rapping about his less-than-ideal romantic situation over some light percussion and these very commanding, very eerie strings that really help elevate the song. Truth be told, this track’s only fault is it’s the shortest cut on the album at just two and a half minutes.
That isn’t saying much, though, because most of the track list doesn’t even reach the four minute mark, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As previously mentioned, Brill didn’t set out to make some mind-blowing Hip Hop record. These are very straightforward rap songs, so none of the material here is dynamic in any significant way. The tracks all pretty much follow a standard verse-hook-verse format, with the only differentiating quality being whether or not Brill is singing the hook or rapping it in his rough, animalistic voice.
And while rappers who sing has become somewhat of a standard in 2017, the trend wasn’t nearly as widespread back in 2012, and believe it or not, Brill is more than capable as a vocalist. I remember when I first heard him singing, I originally thought it was an uncredited guest vocalist, but then I realized, nope, that was him. He can be as grimy and intimidating as he wants in his verses, but that won’t stop him from slowing things down and belting a hook in his surprisingly sensual and pretty singing voice. While I do feel it is a somewhat underutilized element of his arsenal, the scarcity of its usage is partially what make songs like “So Gone” so fucking good.
At its core, A Stroke of Brilliance is very much a Portland record, though Load B’s love of Southern Hip Hop is heard on multiple points throughout the album, especially on “Peter Pan” and the aforementioned “Ghost of Chad Butler.” While I would be hard-pressed to use the term “brilliant” in reference to this album or its contents, it is still a very well-crafted debut, and it will probably go down as one of the catchiest albums to come from the Portland scene. Though its lyrical content is rarely something to write home about, Brill’s charisma, versatility, and witty punchlines are more than enough to carry this album, as its brevity acts as an enhancement, rather than a hindrance. I’m still hoping to hear more solo material from Brill in the future, because I would love to see him grow and evolve as an artist, and he has a knack for making bangers that don’t feel nearly as vapid as their lyrics would suggest.
Favorite Songs: “Its Cold Everywhere” & “Homewrecker”