A refreshing take on R&B in ‘CHE GOT WINGS’
Adam Ramos | Wednesday, January 18, 2017
In the past, New Year’s Day and music haven’t mixed. No matter how many Advil or glasses of water I consumed that morning, a pounding bass usually happens to be the last thing I want to hear waking up after New Year’s Eve. Even worse, New Year’s Day officially marks the end to the always hectic “best of season,” a notorious time in the music critic community dedicated to meticulously ranking the year’s best records — so if there is one day where I am actually sick of music, it’s that one.
Fortunately, 2017 began a bit differently than in years past. After stumbling upon a brief, five track mixtape titled “CHE GOT WINGS” by talented Texas-based producer Cardo and his R&B newbie vocalist counterpart Che, all of my headache-induced apprehensions melted away via tender vocal hooks and inventive beats. At just under 20 minutes in total and exclusively released through a small Soundcloud account, “CHE GOT WINGS” is a delightfully fun escape from the more serious and often over-hyped releases rife in today’s hip-hop scene.
Ronald Latour, aka Cardo, is today’s most elite producer that no one knows. The reason is twofold. For one, Cardo doesn’t put a catch phrase in his beats like many of his well-known peers. But secondly, and more importantly, he rarely crafts bangers, making it hard to form a public persona in a hip-hop sphere where the common and particularly misinformed conception of “beat maker” is contingent on crafting heavy-hitting, “hard” jams. Most of Cardo’s beats avoid relying on thumping basses and stinging high-hats, instead opting for a more relaxed and eclectic sound. That doesn’t mean he can’t produce a banger though, see “Back on the Bull—-.”
In 2011, after his spacey take on classic LA gangster rap caught the ear of Wiz Khalifa, Cardo earned the role as the in-house producer for Taylor Gang Entertainment. From there, the Texan would expand both technically and sonically. This past year Cardo has produced beats for Kendrick Lamar (“Untitled 2” and “Untitled 7”), ScHoolBoy Q (“Over Time” and“THat Part”) and Travi$ Scott (“Through the late night” and “Goosebumps”) among other top rap talents. But on “CHE GOT WINGS,” the producer’s latest release, none of Cardo’s stardom is apparent. It exists in a universe apart from all of that.
The sound of peaceful waves crashing on the shore welcomes the listener into the mixtape’s first track, “SATISIFIED.” The building beat reflects the ocean’s cyclical tranquility with a smooth synth rising and fading throughout the track. Tom-toms, snares, whistles and pitched-up synths give the song some muscle while Che’s sultry vocals and impressive flow establish the track’s cadence. Just as the listener begins to feel lost in the hypnotic serenity, Cardo strikes quickly with the much darker “NME,” a track reminiscent of the Drake’s sparse “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.” The sonic switch-ups continue as each successive track features a different production style, maintaining a fresh feel with Che never missing a beat, rapping and signing like a seasoned veteran over the mixtape’s wide-ranging styles of production. “COMPLETE” recalls Jeremih, “DROP” entrances with a stripped-down instrumental, and the mixtape’s closer, “DECLINED” experiments (successfully) with lethargy.
Throughout the five tracks, Che paints the portrait of a troubled lover, someone battling both inner demons and outer strife. While that description may sound like something right out of the Drake playbook, Che’s tenacious genuineness and strong emotive sensibility strips away any layer of irony or irreverence that would be common on a Champagnepapi track. “Don’t fight with me, you just like me it’s true/ You focused way too much on your flaws/ Funny how I can see thru them all,” Che admits on “COMPLETE” before pleading his lover to return to his life. Che’s candor is consistently endearing and never comes off as whiny. Throughout all of “CHE GOT WINGS” Che challenges the listener to keep up with him while providing incentive to do so with his lyrics and notable storytelling abilities.
The new year may find both Cardo and Che breaking to the next level, but if so, it probably won’t be due to their recent collaboration. And that’s okay. “CHE GOT WINGS” feels more like synergistic exercise between two greats than a major release. But at a time where major releases seem to come like the wind, the mixtape is a refreshing breather. When December rolls around this year and I force myself to objectively rank my subjective musical favorites for the year, “CHE GOT WINGS” will probably not crack my top 20, but hey, it certainly made me crack a smile — which happens to be a great antidote for tough mornings.
If You Like: PARTYNEXTDOOR, DVSN, Drake
Favorite Tracks: SATISFIED, COMPLETE