“Eight days into the new year, a 13-year-old took a volley of gunfire to the back and became Camden City's first homicide victim of 2016. Three hundred and fifty seven days later, 44 others would fall victim to violence in this city of about 77,000.” —"2016 Camden homicide count climbs even as number of other violent crimes decline"
The beep of an opening car door. The ringing of an iPhone. A conversation between two women.
Underneath this swirl of life being lived, the familiar melody of Tupac’s “Ambitionz Az a Ridah” flow can be heard, audible but low, just loud enough without disturbing the world. These are the mundane sounds heard on the intro of Mir Fontane’s latest mixtape, Camden.
It’s cinematic, like the opening scene of a film―the unnamed woman is full of joy after receiving a positive prenatal checkup and the sincerity of her delight brings a brief warmth within the first few seconds. In an untainted world, she drives to meet her friend, they have a joyous reunion, and life continues in bliss.
In Mir Fontane’s world, the sound of bullets interrupts their plans and violence transforms calm to calamity.
The music continues.
Thunderous trap knocks, sauce-soaked melodies, and infectious Auto-Tune anthems are the musical makeup of Camden. 300 Entertainment signed a New Jersey artist with an innate grasp of rap’s modern, melodic period; able to adapt in an era where Travis Scott is rap’s rock star posterchild.
Initially, I believed Mir’s project was meant to be an entrance into the realm of rap being explored by its exploding newcomers. He’s following their design without flaw, an inventor building his own plane with the Wright brother’s blueprint. Yet, throughout my first listen I couldn’t shake this feeling that something made Mir different, a certain edge he possessed that they did not.
The final song, “$horty $tory,” revealed the harsh reality lying in the underbelly of his music.
“He lost his mind when his baby and his bitch died,” he raps before the song reaches the 30-second play marker. The lyrics are bone-chilling in an icy tone to match the heavy rain and heavier piano keys, all intertwining to induce a solemn mood. The story unfolds rapidly, from buying a gun to calling a friend to give him a ride. Mir’s attention to detail allows the song to move without skipping over a single scene, the vividness delivered as if he watched every second acted out and recorded the actions.
There’s no big gasp or dropped jaw when the grieving gangster accuses his companion as the gunman who murdered his girl and unborn child, but it doesn’t make the song any less enthralling. The building intensity of their exchange leading up to the inevitable shootout is magical, incredible storytelling, but what happens next was unforeseeable―the paranoia of escape caused an attempted car jacking and when the driver resists, a second shooting occurs, a violent cycle that leads to a son unknowingly killing his own mother. Mir ends the dark, twisted conclusion with three words: “Welcome to Camden.” The welcome mat of a mad city.
Mir’s “$horty $tory” is a distant reality of JAY-Z’s “Meet The Parents.” Jay’s stunning story of a father bringing about the demise of the son he abandoned showcases his gift for illustrating a intricate scenario on the smallest canvas. In less than five minutes, the tale is introduced and concluded. “$horty $tory” also does a lot with a little, but when the project resets you realize how "$horty $tory" was foreshadowed in the album’s “Intro”―the shooting that occurs at the beginning isn’t further explored until the end.
The entire album occurs in Camden, a city in New Jersey notorious for violence, poverty, and homicide. The presence of Camden exists in the heart of almost every song from the 12-track tape―the inescapable fear of violence, the inhaling of gunsmoke, the suffocating shadow of death.
On "Frank Ocean”―the infectious first single that utilizes the incredible flow first exhibited on Frank Ocean’s “Nights”―he states in the first verse, “We just be prayin’ for summer, even though that’s when everyone died,” one of many harrowing lines quietly slid into the jubilant banger.
I found “WYD” to be rather annoying on first listen, another song driven by boasts of out-balling the next man. The song essentially reads as a braggadocious rap record, but there’s something that stings within the opening line, “I could’ve copped me a Rollie for real, but I had to bail out my brodie for real.” Imagine if Meek's wrist was naked because all the money went to keeping his boys from behind bars. Mir continues by illustrating the wild cousin who arrives with stolen wheels, naming friends who have had their lives taken, and the weight of these losses. Life isn't simple as blowing money fast even though the benefits of having is being celebrated.
“Cold” doesn’t alleviate the pain with any clever wordplay or escape into more fun-filled lyricism. From the moment Mir raps, “Last year they put my homie on a shirt, and even though I’m good with words, I can’t explain how that shit hurt,” the song is like shooting ice into your veins. Mir Fontane’s Camden isn’t another trap album with trap anthems, it’s filled with street tales of violence that reflects the brutal, terrifying reality of the place he calls home.
I was a bit surprised when Mir celebrated via Twitter a million Spotify streams for the song “Down by the River.” The warm reception of “Frank Ocean” made sense, he took a hot, familiar flow and made a hot song, but “Down by the River” is about the violent aftermath that followed a cousin being shot. He is the backseat passenger; imagine if Tre decided to ride with Doughboy after the murder of Ricky in Boyz n the Hood. It’s a real depiction of violence being reacted to with more violence, those that live by the gun dying by the gun. There’s no glory in the madness, no redemption in the revenge―the description of five mothers never seeing their sons again lacks all the energetic joy of Mitch catching bodies and doing the shmoney dance.
But “Down by the River” is sonically pleasant, and Mir’s melodic flow could easily be home to a Travis Scott hit. The production is soulful but with the right amount of kick, not the natural foundation for a song submerged in hard-knock realism. It’s a dark record without being wrapped in complete darkness, the basis of Camden’s sound. Mir is able to disguise tragedy as a part of life, chasing girls and balling with the bros is as much a part of life as cars being stolen and friends being murdered.
Mir has a gift for storytelling. He is able to bring you into a world, his spellbinding specifics allowing listeners to feel engrossed. Music that you see. His illustration of life leans into the dirt underneath the nail instead of just focusing on pleasantries. There’s always cause and effect, a cycle of consequence.
“Last Friday," a SoundCloud loosie, is an even better exhibition of Mir's storytelling prowess. He takes Ice Cube’s Friday and turns the lighthearted world into the darkest timeline. Rapped from the perspective of Chris Tucker’s Smokey, Mir catches everyone up with the events that followed Deebo's downfall: Smokey moved up to selling crack, Craig is still unemployed but now working the corner, Felisha OD'd, Debbie got pregnant, and Big Worm is still calling for his money. It’s the hood without the flowery hijinx, where Smokey and Craig are more like Kain and O-Dog. There’s no next Friday, just the last Friday, one that the two beloved characters may not survive. The world is cold, it's that coldness Mir Fontane uses to warm his fiction with reality.
Rap lives and dies by the ideal of keeping it real. Even when stories are embellished and lives are fabricated, it’s judged by how many believe the authenticity. The same authenticity that initially drew me to 21 Savage's music also exists at the heart of Mir Fontane’s music. Their words don’t sound coated in sugar, their realities don’t appear to be influenced by imitating a false image or idea. You aren't raised in one of the most dangerous places in America without seeing life through a different lens. The environment shapes the artist, always has and always will.
Mir’s eyes see life without separating the thrills from the tragedy, the glorious good and the brutal bad. As a skilled storyteller he can translate all that he has seen, all that Camden has taught him, and bring to life stories that don't neglect the harsh hells occurring on the daily. Whether it’s fiction or reality, unlike his contemporaries neglecting the unforgiving law of repercussions, Mir Fontane doesn’t give listeners the pleasure of forgetting about consequences.
By Yoh, aka Yohday After Next, aka @Yoh31