Using a bassline arguably as nimble as his voice is, rapper C-Nice teams with Jae Santana for a smooth R&B jam in “Masterpiece” almost guaranteed to melt your heart on the spot. We start this track off with a seductive dash of swing that sets up the mood for everything that will soon follow, but I wouldn’t say that the hypnotic fireworks are limited to the opening bars of this single by any means. On the contrary, I think C-Nice wanted to get us off on a particularly eroticized note, as the physicality of the material is only to grow in presence as we press on in the song. “Masterpiece” lives up to its title rather seamlessly, and without having to draw inspiration from the legacies of other contemporary R&B tracks to do so.
Santana’s harmonies in this song are so sleek that they’re almost translucent in a couple of spots, and when countered by the direct assault of C-Nice’s rhymes, the contrast between the two helps to form a lot of the emotional foundation for the lyrics here. There’s nothing better than getting some additional poetic context out of two players exchanging verses, and while it could be said that these collaborators are equally talented, I like that the former doesn’t overstep his place as a guest of the latter in this release. Melodic in one breath and menacingly charged in the next, this is a single that scarcely leaves us wondering whether or not the next beat is going to be as excited as the one preceding it.
Through his agile rapping, C-Nice is able to make the groove beneath his words in “Masterpiece” feel constrictive, yet not wholly suffocating. As we get deeper into the track’s second act, it starts to feel like the mix is closing in around us, pressing the bassline into the vocal and leaving little room for the percussion to go anywhere but right into the center of the ensuing chaos. The buoyancy of Santana’s melodies spares us a crushing climax here, but if the hook wasn’t surrounded by sterling sonic forces by the conclusion of this song, I don’t think it would feel as cathartic as it ultimately does in this scenario. This way, we walk away appreciating the balladic and brawny sides of this composition the same, as opposed to focusing on one over the other.
The Long Beach underground’s iconic history of producing incredible voices continues in the work of C-Nice and his 213 contemporaries this summer, and if you ask me, “Masterpiece” is one of his most endearing tributes to the story of his scene. While not a throwback per se, the aesthetical roots of C-Nice’s artistry are quite audible in “Masterpiece” even without having to adjust your volume knob 200° to the right. He’s advancing something that was started ages ago in this piece and, from where I sit, positioning himself as one of the more inventive creators and collaborators out of the South Bay trending well in 2021.
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