Every so often, I stumble across an artist or a movie that I’ve never once heard of, electing to dive in head-first with little to no research. This decision allows for the quality of the work to speak for itself and the stories within to inform me along the way. In a world of teasers, spoilers and press runs, we’re often inundated with an overabundance of information—sometimes it’s nice knowing absolutely nothing.
There’s not much I can tell you about Billy Mercury because there isn't a wealth of information about him available on the internet aside from a short introduction on YouTube. However, I do know that Billy Mercury is one hell of a rapper and singer, and his debut project, The SOULution, is a special project that deserves your attention.
The SOULution explodes off-top with, for lack of a non-album-title-related descriptor, soul. There’s a deep warmth embedded in the music that acts as the backbone to Mercury’s raspy musings on faith, love and everyday life. There’s an immediate familiarity to Billy’s style, yet the music refutes any overt comparisons. While The SOULution does have a minor resemblance to Anderson .Paak, Mercury’s blend of rapper-meets-soul man is filled with more faith-inspired modesty than .Paak’s pimpish West Coast panache and the music is more in debt to the sounds of Dilla than Dre.
However, if we must compare—a practice that, while often lazy, allows us to better understand something—it’s easy to hear The SOULution as an East Coast version of Malibu, chronicling the struggles—both internal and external—of its protagonist through brilliant musicality and an overarching theme of love being the ultimate answer to both of them.
Much of The SOULution’s production is handled by veteran Virginia producer EOM, who masterfully bridges the gap between vintage soul and modern hip-hop sensibilities to add brightness to the background to Mercury’s musings. While the album could also easily be considered Christian, the tone of SOULution follows more in the secular footsteps of Chance The Rapper and Kendrick Lamar than the traditional confinements of what we expect when we hear “Christian rapper.”
Billy seems more interested in making his crises of faith relatable to the masses than offering his music as repentance, and the result is a supremely engaging album that still upholds the principles Mercury has developed over the years.
JAY-Z has been getting plenty of praise lately for making “grown-up rap” on his latest album 4:44, but add Billy Mercury to a growing sect of hip-hop artists who are crafting music that appeals to adults and touches on mature themes while maintaining a sense of humor and a youthful exuberance. This isn’t the juvenile, hedonist hip-hop you’ll find scouring the depths of SoundCloud, but it offers just as many head-nods and exclamations of “oh shit!”
From start to finish, The SOULution is a surprisingly polished and well-executed debut, leaving me more excited for the future of the Virginia native’s catalog with each repeat listen.