To say that King Mez’s life has changed during the last 18 months would be an understatement.

As recently as the summer of 2014, Mez was making music in a first-floor studio in a nondescript brick building in downtown Raleigh, surrounded by a tight circle of friends and collaborators. Since then, though, the rapper/producer has moved to Los Angeles, become a trusted confidant and protegé of rap legend Dr. Dre, been nominated for Best Rap Album at the GRAMMY’s for his work on Compton, and worked alongside Kanye West on The Life Of Pablo. And that’s just what we know.

It seems fitting, then, that the first solo song he’s released in almost two years—last week’s “Changed”—is aimed precisely at the web of changing environments, relationships, and perceptions that comes with an ascent. The first element from “Changed” that will stand out to any seasoned Mez fan is the singing. Mez continues to push the capabilities of his vocals on this song, just as he did on Compton, when his voice was used almost as often for distressed, auto-tuned vocals as it was for quick rhymes.

And when he is rapping, there’s just a different energy to his voice now. Even for a perfectionist like Mez, working with the infamously detail-obsessed Dr. Dre seems to have rubbed off, with the rapper making every syllable its own study in diction and delivery. On what little material we’ve heard since his last project—April 2014’s Long Live The King—there’s rarely a moment when Mez isn’t pulling his voice up or down, slowing it to a halt or breaking into an all-out sprint, never allowing a moment of dullness, even if to a fault. This stays current with hip-hop’s current holistic, song-crafting direction and points again to his work on Compton, where the ambition on nearly every track seemed to go beyond just rapping.

For long-time fans, it may be disappointing to not hear the thickets of fiery, clever, and sharp verses that are vintage King Mez, all the way from 2011’s The King’s Khrysis EP to his Beats 1 freestyle. But Mez does offer a taste at a couple moments, like this reference to Jaden Smith: “Your jeans got a little tighter, don’t think that we hatin’ dawg/But on Pursuit of Happiness don’t start dressing like Jaden, dawg.”

For all these considerations about Mez’s growth as an artist, the concept of the song tackles his change as a person: not hanging out or picking up the phone anymore, not liking pictures on the ‘Gram anymore, etc. He’s been on a whirlwind—an Ultralight Beam, if you will—and it’s a relief to see him tackling that personal subject matter rather than blasting onto the scene as some Cali artist with a newfound penchant for weed and partying. That’s never been Mez.

His sound has undoubtedly changed, and certainly his world has shifted a lot since he was working in a small, homemade studio in Raleigh, but he still likes the same stuff; see, for instance, the Transformers assembly instructions for the “Changed” cover art. He still rocks with the same people; see, for instance, his upcoming Lincoln Theatre show with Tar Heel artists Lute and Bobby James.

Mez has a yet-unnamed project coming down the pipeline. It’s still unclear what the balance of old Raleigh and new L.A. will be over the course of a full album. “Changed” doesn’t reveal much, but it’s a fun listen while we wait.