For those who were around for the explosive rise of trap music in 2013, RL Grime has become a household name in electronic music. He’s come a long way since “Core” and “Tell Me” with What So Not, though, and his latest body of work has all the evidence to show for it. Despite RL’s influential spot in the electronic scene over the past few years, NOVA is his greatest career-defining moment thus far. For this album, he linked up with artists such as Miguel, Jeremih, Julia Michaels, Chief Keef, and more as featured vocalists; additionally, he tapped Diplo as an executive producer for the album. With 15 tracks ranging from pop to trap to hip-hop and beyond, NOVA is a distinguished product of the ever-evolving culture of dance music.
One of the first singles released from the album is the vocal, future-inspired single “I Wanna Know” featuring Daya, which prompted listeners to wonder what sound he’d be going for on the entire record. In this same vein, songs like “Atoms” featuring Jeremy Zucker and “Light Me Up” featuring Miguel and Julia Michaels are among the pop-leaning cuts off NOVA. His take on the modern pop sound pulls inspiration from the future bass movement, but he lends his own sound to his collaborators like a perfect marriage between two lovers. His interpretations of pop music are easily loveable and accessible to an audience ranging from ravers to avid Top 40 radio listeners.
If you’ve always craved the tougher, banger-like tracks from RL Grime, there’s a good chunk of those in the mix, too. We featured “Pressure” off the album when it was released a few weeks ago, a track that’s marked by layers of filth and a synth line that appears to have a life of its own. The album’s opening track, “Feel Free,” harkens back to RL Grime’s trap beginnings, featuring infectious melodies and cascading synths. “Undo” with Jeremih and Tory Lanez also possesses a neo-trap vibe, pulling various instruments that click and clack beneath the track’s R&B-style vocals. One of the more unexpected songs is “Rainer,” a slow-building symphony of echoing vocals that turn into a four-on-the-floor, hard dance-inspired drop that rains down from the sky.
There’s plenty of future bass for those of you who want to get in your feels, too. “Take It Away” featuring Ty Dolla $ign and TK Kravitz is the first time I’ve heard two rappers on a full-on future bass track, complete with fan-favorite lush chords. “Reims” is a surefire hit for the biggest fans of RL Grime, and it sounds like each element of the track was stolen from the pearly gates of heaven.
There are two cuts off the album that steal the show with their unique production and musical direction: “Shoulda” and “OMG” featuring Joji and Chief Keef. On “Shoulda,” RL takes us back to the old school with a garage beat, celebrating one of the earliest sounds of electronic music that’s been fashioned to sound like a brand new style. For “OMG,” he shows off his hip-hop production prowess in full force as this one is a true rap song. He enlisted some of the most notable rappers in the game for this track and paid close to attention to the details within the percussion — don’t go looking for the drop on this one, though; just relish in the laidback production.
Regarding his evolved sound, here’s what RL Grime had to say about the album:
“I made my first album, VOID, in my bedroom, mostly isolated, and without any real pressure. I think that’s an experience that many artists share on their first project. The lack of any expectation really allows you to exist in your own world.
When I started NOVA, it was from a different place. I had become overwhelmed by my own thoughts of what I should be, and what the project should be. I wanted to push myself forward, but still to exist in the world that i had established on that first album. I wanted to keep the power and purpose that I presented in VOID, but open up my process to new sounds, and collaborators, and lyrics. I felt like I had more to say, and more opportunity to say it, but that sometimes is debilitating.
I was also working from a place of hyper awareness which came with real anxiety and even dread. However, through the process, I began to open up. I made so many songs for this project, and through that was able to whittle away at what the identity and direction of NOVA would be. I’m proud of what I achieved here. I introduced the roots of the project, the power and scale of VOID, to something bright and open and almost ethereal. If VOID sounds like it comes from deep under the surface of the ocean, then NOVA comes from somewhere far away in the universe, soaring through space.”
In all, RL Grime wears many different hats throughout the 15-track record, but each one is a brilliant representation of the versatile artist he’s become. Listen to NOVA below.