Arts & Entertainment Editor
To any unfamiliar listener, the name “Sugar Tongue Slim” sounds like that of either a pimp from the ‘80s or an older jazz cat with a good sense of humor. The criminally unheard-of Atlanta rapper “STS,” as he now prefers to abbreviate his name, is somewhere in between those two things. Funny, old school, and smooth, he carries himself with a swagger and positive confidence that makes his music that just feels good to listen to. STS is the epitome of a fun uncle.
Escape from Sweet Auburn marks his second collaboration with more highly recognizable producer RJD2, whose combination of old-school, skill, and intent to inspire help bring out the best in STS, and vice versa. Their 2015 collaboration, known only as STS x RJD2, included what is to this day the only STS song to have made it especially big, “Doin’ It Right.” Although the entire album is amazing, its low numbers suggest that RJD2’s interest in collaborating again with STS must be about more than money and Spotify numbers. RJD2’s genuine belief in the art is evidenced by both this and the effort he puts in to make their new project, while out seven years later, so strong.
Right out the gate with “Miss Me with That Bullshit,” the chemistry between the pair is undeniable. STS’s goofy, childhood chant-style when delivering the chorus is a perfect complement to the casually swinging horn section and deep, dirty drums. STS’s flows line up with the beat so smoothly it is clear the collaboration goes far deeper than RJD2 simply sending over some beats and STS picking which ones to rap over. STS rides the constantly-adapting beat like a surfer on a sentient wave trying to create the perfect ride.
The positive energy through which both artists shine brightest continues on “Whatchawannado.” This cut highlights the skills of both artists, with RJD2 making the best out of some minimalist syncopation over which STS raps quickly and flawlessly. So much more than just a beat maker, RJD2 keeps a constant underlying feeling but also adds, subtracts, and samples-in different layers to keep the vibes going while keeping listeners on the edge of their seats. The whirlwind-like “wicka wicka” surrounding the shortcutting in of someone saying “worldwide” blanketed by the beachy guitar, organ, and tambourine in the chorus make it a perfect track to get lost in the rhythm while dancing to.
RJD2’s choice to exclusively use scratching when he samples vocals keeps it both old school and fresh, whether he’s crab scratching in “come onnnn” on “I Excel” or STS’s own vocals from their previous collaboration on “Life of the Party.”
The glory of the project does somewhat fade when it gets more serious and solemn in the back half. This is for two reasons. First, the warmth, sharpness, and friendliness of STS’s voice all combine to make it legendary on the more positive, fast-paced tracks but makes it harder for him to reach such heights when it all slows down and gets darker. Second, his strength in writing comes much more from his ability to create a vibe and a fun flow than writing the most meaningful lyrics. When he is bouncing freely between different topics and angles on upbeat tracks like “Back to Work” and “Life of the Party,” it doesn’t feel like there is much meaning being lost, but he can shoot himself in the foot when trying to write something more meaningful and impactful by doing the same thing.
That being said, “Hold On” makes for a good, concise message advocating for people to try to relate to the struggles of those with different backgrounds. The ending line, “and uhhhh, I just stopped writing because I was running late for the protest,” is some STS humor, though the audio clip of a Black Lives Matter protest over the ambient lofi guitars and keyboards runs awkwardly long, taking up more than half of an otherwise short song.
The only other rough point on the album comes during “1000 Dreams,” which has some of the best lyrical writing on the album. Though the line “[t]he white boys Kid A, the black boys Kid Ink / with backstreet block boys but everyone’s in sync” is hilarious, and his nostalgic and vivid descriptions of the city are touching, the chorus makes the track as a single unit hard to listen to. Holding his notes out uncomfortably long and trying to emulate the ritzy and triumphant energy of Frank Sinatra, the singer sounds awfully like Kid Cudi. The tone of voice has its place, but his similarities to Cudi extend even to the off-pitch singing.
However, a minor rough patch in the singing is not what will make this project memorable. Ignoring numbers, STS and RJD2 will forever be a legendary pair for their ability to make solid, uplifting hip-hop with an old-school smack.