Over the course of the last decade, Rich Jones has built a reputation as a respected leader in Chicago’s diverse DIY scene. During that time, the rapper/singer has released a plethora of projects with a sound ranging from the contemporary pop of Vegas (2017) to the recent sample-based raps of singles like “Coffee” (2020) with prolific westsider Convertible Ashley (fka David Ashley). Apart from a catalog that reflects an undeniable progression with every new release, Jones is also outspoken about supporting independent artists, and is constantly using his platform to improve the greater good of the city. On his latest EP, Blue Beach, Rich joins forces with New Jersey producer Killer Kane and showcases his refined skills as a performer over thirteen therapeutic minutes.
Like many of us, Rich Jones struggled a great deal with the bleak reality of 2020. His most recent album was the Montana Macks-produced How do you sleep at night?, which was a year-end highlight in the local scene. The majority of the record centers around an anxiety-ridden Rich coping through isolation and frustration from both local and national politics. Blue Beach was recorded during a getaway to Massachusetts in May, and it was the first time Jones ventured outside of city limits in over a year. The EP is more of a sequel to How do you sleep at night? than a continuation of that stress. His writing and recording process shifts focus from an overall emotional discomfort to obtaining inner peace.
The project opens with “It’s Over,” which finds Rich spitting through some of his strongest wordplay to date. Jones ends the first verse off with, “a prisoner to some groovy shit/who can be crowned the goofiest/why you think i’m so ruthless,” using a vocal melody that warps syllables in certain words to creatively rhyme with fluidity. As the final breath of “ruth-e-less” trails off, his signature croon floats over Killer Kane’s lo-fi production. Rich has balanced his faint voice with the power of punchline raps before, but Killer Kane’s production sets a consistency in the mood of the song regardless of Jones’ words. Over another beat, Rich might sound tougher or even more aggressive, but Kane’s beats are more fitting for an island getaway than an after hours cypher outside of EZ Inn.
Rich and Kane truly hit their mark on the EP highlight, “No More Running,” which sounds like a minimalist version of Knxwledge & Anderson .Paak’s NxWorries. Kane gracefully plays off Jones’ strong vocal range and slows his weighted drum kit down towards the end of the song, revealing a bright jazz guitar sample. Killer Kane’s drums are hazy and calming throughout the entire project, as if DJ Screw were to collaborate with lo-fi mastermind Ohbliv. It’s a unique crossover of vastly different scenes in hip-hop, but it allows Rich to perform with an inspirational perspective even when his words reflect on an internal struggle.
Blue Beach closes with the title track, which features Jones reversing the roles of his understated singing and energetic raps. This pushes his gliding voice to the forefront of the recording, and demonstrates how flexible he is as a performer. The subject matter on the closer breaks away from the personal and social exhaustion that has dictated the pace of Rich Jones’ recent recordings, and is one of the most easy going tracks he has released since the dawn of covid. “Blue Beach” closes the record emphasizing the importance of leisure and escaping reality for a few days.