How lucky we are in NZ that our hip hop artists speak on the mundane, beautiful reality of everyday struggles. Instead of promoting artificial symbols of success, Te Whanganui-a-Tara rapper Will McClean has a simple message for when times get tough – ‘Don’t Forget To Breathe’.
The album is infused with jazz-inspired hip hop, backed by lush production from McClean himself and Nikau Te Huki, meaning every track is best enjoyed with headphones. The interlacing of vocals, piano, horns, drums, and non-traditional hip hop instruments such as guitars and flutes ensure that McClean is rapping over musical pieces rather than looped beats.
While he has a ‘nod your head’, summer beach hit in Vibe, the majority of content here explores the vulnerable and delves deep into the honest, authentic struggles the artist is facing.
Particularly emotional is Man On A Mission where McClean shares the impact of losing his father when he was a child and questioning his mother on why this had to happen. This gut-punch of an arc is completed as the album ends with a poem by his mother, speaking on her love for her son and the challenge of explaining to a five year-old that their father is gone.
The entire project has snippets of his loved ones, from a cheeky introduction by a friend, a poem by his nanna, to a remarkably genuine conversation from visiting an ill grandfather.
While the messages are pure, at several points, the raps resort to single-syllable rhyme schemes or a simplistic flow that could use a second draft to match the quality of content and production. At the end of the day, the love in the artist is reflected in the lyrics with a genuine, purposeful uniqueness showcased in the music. ‘Don’t Forget To Breathe’ falls between the raw and the complete, from an artist in the process of polishing his craft.