Rap is all about tone; tone of voice, tone of lyricism, tone of the instrumental backdrop. If you’re not setting up something evocative at the start of a track, you’re not making something stimulating for the contemporary hip-hop enthusiast, and judging from the design of his new single “Ghost – Freestyle,” I’d have to assume Santa Sallet definitely gets this point. Using minimal weaponry but a charismatic wit that could work in just about any genre, this rapper assembles a mood in his new studio cut right off the bat, utilizing nothing but the natural tonal presence of instruments and rhymes where others would need a more forward sample.
The lyrical delivery is actually rather relaxed in this performance, but the substance of the verses is all business. I think part of the reason why Sallet wanted to employ contrast as much as he did in this piece was to demonstrate versatility as opposed to simply reveling in the provocative chaos that comes with trying something experimental in the studio. Too many of his contemporaries are getting zany with their songwriting just for the sake of sounding abstract, whereas what he’s doing in this release is more indicative of an artist trying to get the most of their talents.
In the not-so-distant background behind the vocal in “Ghost – Freestyle,” there’s a moderate percussive click that I notice every time I listen to the song, and it causes me to look over my shoulder whenever it comes into focus. Seemingly outside of the mix but confirmedly contained within the track, this sound effect sounds like a door cracking open in the room somewhere, as though an intruder is quietly stepping into our space and stalking us in the shadows. I think its inclusion here is entirely deliberate, as Sallet wants us on the edge of our seats and wondering just what might be creeping up behind us in this single.
The instruments run separately beside the vocal in the finished master mix, but rather than this creating fragmentation in the narrative, it makes it easier for us to appreciate the detail and care that went into producing “Ghost – Freestyle.” You can’t listen to this at any volume and step away feeling like you’ve just heard something amateurish; there’s just too much meticulousness in the music for anyone but a pro to be leading the creative direction here, and I’d challenge any critic out there to disagree this summer.
A quality production style wins the race every time in pop music, but in the case of Santa Sallet, it makes this gifted rapper sound even more skillful than he already would have in a straightforward setting. “Ghost – Freestyle” is exactly as advertised – haunting, off the cuff, and highly engaging with listeners who don’t have time for the synthesized melodies of pseudo-trap nor the overly-retro stylizations of other hip-hop players in the American underground right now. Sallet is an old school artist, but not so removed from the contemporary pulse as to lack the charm of a post-millennium songwriter.
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