Brooklyn rapper Medhane has been moving at full speed for the past six months. When I last spoke with him, the 23-year-old rapper born Medhane-Alam Olushola was a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University on the cusp of self-releasing his solo debut album, Own Pace. Currently, he’s running errands and geeking out about Future’s latest album, High Off Life. “‘Accepting My Flaws’ goes crazy,’ Med tells me, the wind whipping through his receiver.
Future is one of Medhane’s favorite rappers, to the point that he mimicked the Atlanta veteran’s mixtape release schedule. Medhane’s last three projects—last November’s Own Pace, this past February’s FULL CIRCLE, and Cold Water, out today—follow the release model set by Future’s three-tape run of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights from October 2014 to March 2015.
“The music isn’t the same, but that’s the format I was trying to tap into,” he explains.
Medhane’s introspective writing, across all three projects, cuts to the bone. A line like “I ain’t get to build the bridge, I was in my head” from “All Facts” shows a writer surveying their damage from the outside. On the standout selection, “Na Fr,” Med inches closer than ever to embracing his past. “My spirit clean,” he says plainly over a slinky piano and muted drums.
For Medhane, Cold Water is the end of a trilogy he started with Own Pace.
“Own Pace was where things happened to me,” he elaborates. “FULL CIRCLE was me finding my own footing and trying to put sound to what’s going on inside my head, and Cold Water is getting more into the actual struggles I had with depression and my mental health and me accepting them.”
The album’s lead single, “I’m Deadass,” is a microcosm of Medhane’s newfound clarity. He plants his feet on solid ground, and “ain’t heard a whisper from a demon” in a minute. The song’s swelling sample fits his mood, as does his consistently improving rapping.
Medhane has always valued the art of concision, and Cold Water features some of his most polished raps yet. Take the passage “Scarred frame, worked until we saw change” from opener “Off Tha Strength,” which encapsulates a lifetime’s worth of perseverance in just seven words.
“[Cold Water is] me going deeper into my emotions and leveling up with the raps as well,” Medhane says. “I think my raps on this one are way harder than the ones on my last two projects. The shit I be tryna do with the imagery and assonance and internal rhyme and shit. I felt like I had more to say this time overall.”
Having more to say is one thing; saying more with fewer words is a sign of true mastery. Across Cold Water, Medhane’s imagery is vivid and terse. Take lines like “Smokin gas in the black Air Max, walkin’ from the past” from “New Drip” or “Brodee on the corner like the rook” from “All Facts.” Like many of his peers—including MIKE and Maxo—Medhane’s economy of language touches the core of thoughts and mental health struggles in the fewest moves possible.
“Whether it’s mental health as a Black person, or even as a young person in America in 2020 during COVID-19,” Med begins, “one of the good things about our little scene is everybody is providing their unique perspective and further solidifying that this shit is not a monolith. People hit me every day thanking me for the work and saying I helped them reevaluate things. I remember how it was going through my shit and not having no music to turn to.”
Through offering solace for others, Medhane has also found ways to help himself. I mention how the act of articulating any kind of thought is a miracle in and of itself, and he quickly agrees. “A lot of times, I find myself not being able to express how I feel in regular conversations,” he says. “And then I’ll write a song and come back to it and be like, ‘Wow, I explained it all right here.’”
As I continue to spin Cold Water, I realize the album’s central theme is control. Ruminating in the anguish of Own Pace and FULL CIRCLE will only get Med so far. More than ever, Medhane is willing to reap the fruits of his labors. Blessings are mentioned several times across Cold Water, particularly on the album’s centerpiece “TRS.” He openly communicates with his ancestors and sees “blessings in the sky all the time.”
Cold Water marks the first time Medhane took an active role in creating the cover art for one of his projects. He tells me about taking the title to its literal extreme (“I thought it would be fire if we poured water on me, bro.”) and staging the shoot on a friend’s rooftop in 60-degree New York weather. On the cover, shot by Nate Cox, Medhane is consumed by water, his face and tight cornrows cresting the surface of the splashes of reality.
“That shit looked like a Future cover, lowkey,” he says, laughing.
The cover boils the project’s tone down to a single image. Medhane is experiencing a shock to the system, but, hopefully, for the last time.
Cold Water may be the closing of this loop in Medhane’s story, but there is so much more to come: “If this is six months, imagine what’ll happen in six years.”