SteadyRadios Reviews Pepperboy’s P.T.S.
If you’re someone who’s never heard of Pepperboy before (although that’s unlikely if you’re reading this), the opening lines on his new album PTS, not including 45 second intro track, will be the best introduction to his style. Coming from another rapper, Pepperboy’s first spoken words on the second track Death would likely be the beginning of a simple metaphor: “I’m hurt, man.” But Pepperboy is speaking literally and has right away jumped into narrative: “I can’t feel my legs. Get me to me to the hospital, man.” While obviously Pepperboy is not laying injured on the studio floor, this kind of barebones, straight forward storytelling has you neck deep when the album’s just started.
Returning fans, however, will find this familiar. Lyrically or thematically, not much has changed from Pepperboy’s most recent, previous releases. The album is littered with personal details of his hardest and darkest times contrasted with a positive message. And the details about Pepperboy’s past are deep and specific. Pepperboy doesn’t just tell you he spent time in prison, he describes spending two and a half years in Arkansas’ high security Varner Unit and having to work construction on its SuperMax facilities. Or he describes being locked up, and not only missing the birth of a son but the first two years of his child’s life. And then tells you to never let anyone discourage your dreams. While hearing Pepperboy discuss this is inspirational in many ways, labeling him as a simple bad-guy-turned-good ignores the complex character he brings to his music.
While Pepperboy does, of course, often describe himself as trying to live a better life in comparison to his past (this is basically the subject of Battlefield), he also details a complicated life full of choices and their consequences, whether good or bad and whether he regrets them or not. The title track, PTS, might be where Pepperboy best shows the complexity of his character. While the song is essentially about the stressfulness of daily life and attempting to cope (especially with the constant, malicious presence of the police and judicial system), Pepperboy complicates this theme by pointing out times he should have listened to advice but chose not to; or, even more specifically, admitting to still riding around with a gun for protection from old enemies, and having to fire warning shots to make them “think twice.” He dislikes that he has to do this, but is open about having to do it all the same. Pepperboy does have a message of hope, but does not always treat it as simply as “past vs. present” or “good vs. bad.” Instead, he presents a unique life for his listeners to get to know and understand how hope plays a role.
Again, beyond the intimate details, those familiar with him know what to expect: storytelling and mostly simple hooks. There are no witty punchlines, complicated flows or strange word play. And when catching all the details of Pepperboy’s lyrics demands so much active attention on my part I am left wondering, somewhat, how long I could actually listen for. But, at just under twenty eight minutes, the album is very short. It’s actually shorter than Pepperboy’s previous release, the Days of Grace EP. But what Pepperboy does, he does well and the roughly half hour length of these projects feels like a good choice. The beat selection on PTS especially is very good and unless you’re a die hard boom-bap fan ( and then, again, how did you end up here?) you will enjoy stretched out, spacey samples and synths. Aside from one old Clams Casino beat, the album contains original production from producers of varying internet notoriety, including some we’ve posted here at Steady Leanin’ like BSBD and suicideyear, and some I’m just hearing of for the first time like mister jay and Lyle Horowitz.
With PTS, Pepperboy has carved out a niche that no one else can occupy. While seemingly easy comparisons to his style can be made (for example, with his best known cosigner Lil B), such comparisons ignore the uniqueness Pepperboy has created through his intensely detailed raps. While it may not make for great music to turn on at a party or even in the car with friends (the often overused “bedroom rap” label comes to mind here), Pepperboy’s music tells a story not found anywhere else, because it’s his.