‘Shadow Black’ is a 17 track debut album by artist Jeff Fresh. Over the course of an hour, Jeff Fresh incorporates multiple sounds, influences, flows, and producers to create an atmosphere that is about and beyond his life. Throughout the album, I was mesmerized by the versatile performance of Jeff Fresh and his command over the aesthetics and atmosphere of every hook and verse.
Shadow Black boasts an overall darker tone that meshes island sounds, Caribbean inflections as well as modern trap. Kicking off with Whaddup, Jeff Fresh introduces himself as a rapper who has a work ethic that is worth gauging and lauding. He very much sets the tone of the whole album when he touches on topics that concern him and his distaste for authority be it politicians or labels. This theme is further fleshed out later down the run time. The album transitions into Six Figure which is braggadocios track about the high life that Jeff Fresh has found himself in. The beat immediately induces a trance and Jeff Fresh’s melodic singing further adds character to the song. At this point, I came to understand that he has incredible control over the quality of his hooks due to his wide vocal range. Dollar Sign$ is where artist Gigi supports the song with a strong hook; all thanks to her buttery smooth voice. The stripped-back but bass-heavy instrumental further elevates the vocal presence of both artists. Jeff Fresh drops in with a gem of a verse, talking about how having a higher status has made people envious of him. He reflects on his position in life and dispels advice to those who are too extravagant.
When Clothes Off started playing, ‘Banger’ was the first word that came to my mind. The track delivers a strong Caribbean vibe and is destined to be rotated heavily in clubs. We are Gods was when things started picking up heat. The track tackles identity and is all about finding the power within oneself. In a world where minorities are disenfranchised, I found this track to be exceptionally powerful. Jeff Fresh raps about other rappers selling out and losing their way. Jumping from a personal level to a holistic one can be tricky but Jeff Fresh pulls it off quite well. Neighborhood follows in the same spirit where Fresh talks about the prevalent problem of systemic racism and how it has stunted growth within the black community. Not only does he highlight the problem but also offers a solution. He talks about how people can give back to the community to help those who are less fortunate. In his mind, this accomplishes the image of a true ‘gangster’.
In Focus, Jeff Fresh lets his Kid Cudi influence shine in the track. The spacey vibe coupled with thought-provoking lyrics that deal with institutional deception and drug culture packs a powerful punch. Shine plays after it, bringing forth Fresh’s signature strong hooks laid over a modern trap instrumental. I found these tracks to work well together as they talk more about society than they do about Fresh. He is able to observe grander narratives and mesh them well inside his songs. At this point, it’s not an album that is about Jeff Fresh being high up in a penthouse, but it is about a thoughtful individual who uses his status to shed light upon problems bigger than his own.
Ayiti Cheri was a perfect homage to Haiti which is home for Jeff Fresh. Over the course of the album, he makes a lot of references to Haiti. It’s safe to say that his Caribbean instrumentals are also inspired by his roots. Most of the vocals are in French that gives the track a very mellow and soothing feel. Tippin introduces a darker aesthetic with its smoke and mirrors approach. It’s a very visual track that describes a life that is a direct by-product of fame and acclaim. Sex Me is a slow and sensual track in contrast. Tha Goat brings a strong island touch to this already Caribbean song. I found the feature to be incredibly fitting. Capitol Hill Freestyle made me chuckle when I first read its name. Jeff Fresh isn’t reluctant to pay homage to his roots and reflect on the current political climate of America. What’s Mine was a hard-hitting track that beautifully incorporated 808’s. It’s a song about mastering one’s lane and not caring about anything other than improving oneself. Juke and Jeff have amazing chemistry throughout the track and the hunger from Juke’s verse makes it even hit harder. Gooyad is another slow and intimate track. Not having Caribbean roots, I often found myself searching up the slang that Jeff was using. This made me appreciate how authentic he appears in his songs and doesn’t cater to any styles that are not his own.
Can’t Sit Wit Us has the hallmarks of an anthem that touches upon brotherhood and staying loyal to day ones. For a person who pays so much attention to the wellbeing of others, Jeff Fresh’s central idea for his verse did not surprise me. For Jeff, jeopardizing his gang in the face of authority is simply not an option. Triple R boasts amazing production with a subtle flute in the background. A strong verse from Chief 3rd Basedame seems even more impactful thanks to his raspy voice and mesmerizing flow. The album comes to a conclusion with Freshville which is a memorable closing track due to how atmospheric it sounds.
For a debut album, Jeff Fresh covers all his bases, talks about himself and what inspires him to push even harder. I strongly felt that Jeff was able to tailor his flows according to the different assortment of beats and production styles. Using different producers allowed him to showcase how flexible he is and it worked to his advantage. If you want to be blown away by a debut album, I recommend listening to Shadow Black.