Not Well, Raund Haus  ★★★★

On the last night of Hopscotch 2016, Oak City Slums took the stage at CAM Raleigh before a packed audience of festivalgoers anticipating the headliner of the night, Mr. Carmack. What those attendees weren’t anticipating was that they were surrounded by a legion of local hip-hop and beat-scene loyalists who came to see Slums execute his brand of bass-heavy, sample-laden dance music, and create seismic activity in the warehouse district of downtown Raleigh.

Slums didn’t disappoint, with a performance and crowd reaction that has become somewhat of a folk legend in the independent rap and beat scene. Since then, Slums’ legendary status has not faltered, but the question of “what’s next” quietly lingered for about two years.

But Slums, aka Rodney Finch, has put that to rest with Not Well, a ten-track ride that feels like it’s speeding 80 mph on a winding dirt road. It has all of the thumping, fast-paced chaos that sets Oak City Slums’ drum programming apart, but with dirty sizzles and pops from analog synthesizers that induce a static calm. On Not Well, Finch lays out inspiration from a plethora of dance music genres with the same resplendence as a Thanksgiving dinner.

Though Finch is known as a hip-hop producer, his music has never conventionally fit into that realm. Not Well comes off as a project made by someone with a broad taste in dance music, borrowing elements from across the dance spectrum, but with a sound that doesn’t seem messy, imitated, or even imitable.

One of the best illustrations of this point is in the second track, “Space,” where Finch executes the dark tones and sporadic bursts of drum-and-bass sensibilities and the synthy arpeggio of techno, but with an undeniable hip-hop bounce to it. This theme is constant throughout the project, but what keeps things interesting is how Finch rearranges these elements in each track, putting one genre in the forefront and another one subtly in the background, only to return the background element to the foreground a few minutes later.

Finch’s skills for sampling and remixing tracks helped him rise toward the top of the Triangle’s deejay and beat-making scene, but none of that appears on Not Well. By taking this risk, Finch gives himself the ability to explore his musical influences without being bogged down by the limitations of fitting into one type of beat making.

What makes Not Well special is the fact that it’s an electronic music record that has something for everyone in a way that lacks the kitsch of a David Guetta record, but avoids the headspace of similarly weighty music like a full-on drum-and-bass record. The whole album is executed like one of Finch’s celebrated deejay sets: Though he weaves in and out of genres, he makes it feel right and convinces his listeners to even consider some music they wouldn’t normally pay attention to.