Late last year, Rhymesayers wunderkind emcee deM atlaS dropped a surprise nine-track “EP” called DWNR to relatively little fanfare. For the amount of hype surrounding deM atlaS when he released his first EP, Charlie Brwn, in 2013, DWNR seemed like the record that should have pushed him into the national spotlight. Who knows, maybe music critics’ attention spans have gotten too short. Good thing deM atlaS couldn’t seem to care less about what anyone thinks of him or how much buzz he’s getting on music blogs. By the end of my first listen, it was clear to me why he’s become Rhymesayers’ best shot at staying relevant in the face of their aging stable of early-‘00s backpack rappers. This new EP is an update on the classic Minneapolis indie-hip-hop formula. deM atlaS creates earnest, happy-sounding-sad-songs, a move straight out of the late-period Atmosphere playbook, but he also injects them with grungy electronics and manic soul.
These nine cathartic anthems are joyous toasts to regret, anxiety, and depression. “Watabout” opens the festivities with an optimistic reprimand against all of deM atlaS’s haters. The enveloping gang vocal chorus makes you feel like you’re surrounded by all of your best friends, screaming “f@%k the haters” into the abyss. “Wannabe A Kid Again” bemoans the bummers of growing up with an insistent hook, atlaS demanding over and over, “I wanna be a kid again, I wanna be a kid again.” But he never wallows in self-pity, instead choosing to focus on the simple beauties of his childhood memories. “Time of Our Lives,” the album’s finale, eventually trades in the growing pains of young-adulthood for the hopefulness of youth. “The time of our lives, as people we shine, and the sun will never rise again,” atlaS howls repeatedly.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this EP is the way deM atlaS seamlessly integrates his soaring, confident voice into the mix. Like Chance The Rapper, he can break out into a laid-back soul song in the middle of a verse and dive right back into his flow without losing a step. deM atlaS is also a master of the sing-along chorus. His hooks are walls of thundering sound that demand you and anyone in earshot to join in. Just try listening to the hook on “All We Got,” and see if you can stop yourself from screaming along.
With the all the successes deM atlaS has on DWNR, hype or no hype, it looks like the people over at Rhymesayers will have another golden boy for a long time to come.