Rhawn B, a rapper hailing from Inglewood, California, apparently has a strong affinity for two-word phrases that are contradictory in a way that is, ideally for him, both genuinely profound enough for the deep thinkers and snappy enough to impress the snarkiest of smartasses. The name of his rap collective, Uniquely Divided, doesn’t perform too well by either measure; it’s not a particularly clever observation that a united group comprises members that each bring in a distinct contribution, and the phrase “uniquely divided” doesn’t have a ring to it that rolls off the tongue. On the other hand, the name of his new album, Expensive Ignorance, is a bit more successful on these counts; it’s at least clever enough to suggest that there’s more to Rhawn B beneath a cover of money-and-hoes raps, that maybe there’s substance hidden underneath the hood. Paradoxically, Expensive Ignorance proudly wears the element of surprise on its sleeve.
This element of surprise never does materialize into anything exceptional across the ten tracks on Expensive Ignorance. It is certainly admirable that Rhawn B handles all aspects of his music; in addition to writing and rapping, he produced, engineered, and mastered every track on his record. Although it’s fantastic that he put blood, sweat, and tears into the production of his album, one of Expensive Ignorance‘s biggest downfalls is that we the listeners don’t ever get a solid idea of what Rhawn B is about.
The opening track, “Ain’t Gotta Question,” is at least successful in establishing that the rest of the album never sounds confident in the direction it’s taking, with Rhawn B spitting half-confident verses over scrappily programmed trap drums. Indeed, he falls into a trap that would seem all too easy to overlook at a hungry young artist, never making it clear if he’s here to drop knowledge or if he’s just here to make jams to turn up to.
A bigger problem still is that Rhawn B isn’t adept at either. Rhawn B’s self-described “high-powered, and yet always tasteful” beats are, for the most part, mediocre attempts at a generic trap sound. This wouldn’t be a problem if only his drum programming was rhythmically precise, yet beats like “See It, Want It” are plagued with poorly placed drum hits that hinder Rhawn B’s already-lacking flow. Way too often he sounds like a version of Ab-Soul that tries just as hard to sound clever, but only ever drops weak lines like “Everyone’s a critic, but I’ll be damned if I ever listen” on “Aligned” and “Fuck a new watch ’cause it’s my time” on “Status Booming.”
The opening track, “Ain’t Gotta Question,” certainly isn’t a promising sign of what’s to come for the rest of the record, with uncomfortable-sounding Rhawn B verses punctuated by really obvious punch-ins that only further stifle his flow. Expensive Ignorance ends as meekly as it starts, as the last track “Vibe Right” sees Rhawn B offer little more than stale raps about how much he likes fornicating with women: “I beat it up like Drumline, she can’t handle it.” Fittingly, the song that comes the closest to living up to the album’s title is “Expensive Ignorance,” where Rhawn B manages to convey an ounce of personality over a Yeezus-influenced beat. Even this track, though, is plagued by the same issues as the rest of the album. On top of the mediocrity of Rhawn B’s flow, rhymes, and production, he simply lacks an “it” factor, a facet of his mic presence that makes him compelling. For Rhawn B it may be true, but sometimes, the expensive option isn’t always the best.