"RUFFS" has its moments but feels repetitive at times

by Ben Gardner

"RUFFS" has its moments but feels repetitive at times

Kenny Mason


RCA Records · September 28, 2022

"RUFFS" has its moments but feels repetitive at times

I first learned about Kenny Mason from an Instagram post by the hip-hop account @fantastichiphop_ titled “Predicting Every Album of the Year For The Rest Of The 2020s.” I knew most of the artists mentioned in the list, and the poster played it pretty safe, predicting that popular, talented artists such as Kanye West, Denzel Curry, and Earl Sweatshirt would drop amazing albums in the future. What caught my eye was his prediction for the year 2029: Kenny Mason. As it’s only 2022, Mason has 7 years left to craft his magnum opus. In the meantime, he’s dropped three projects in as many consecutive years: 2020’s Angelic Hoodrat, 2021’s Angelic Hoodrat: Supercut, and the subject of this review, RUFFS. I really like Angelic Hoodrat, as it introduces Kenny Mason’s unique blend of hip-hop, alternative rock, and shoegaze in a clear and intriguing way. I’m not that enthusiastic about the supercut due to its cleaner, more mainstream sounds, but it does have some standout tracks. Mason’s newest, RUFFS, sounds like a mix of the previous two, which is both beneficial and detrimental.

The second track “HALOS” has all the hallmarks of a typical Kenny Mason song – muted drums, vocal distortion, and his signature sing-songy yet steady flow. Mason discusses his rough upbringing with his single father, who would sometimes leave for weeks, leaving Mason to fend for himself. He describes vivid images such as “When he got stabbed, had to scrub all the blood out the sink,” engendering sympathy from the listener. Mason continues to describe the realities of his upbringing on “MAMA DON’T KNOW” over a melancholy trap beat. He humanizes the stereotypical drug dealer trope found throughout modern rap by confessing “Truth be told, I’m terrified, hope my partner don’t know.” The best song on the album, penultimate track “SHELL,” features a gorgeous soul sample and a phenomenal vocal performance from Mason. Here he continues to tell stories of his upbringing “in the city with closed eyes, a city with no god.” The track has a warm feel, despite its dark subject matter.

When I saw the tenth track features experimental pop artist Jean Dawson, I was excited. Dawson and Mason are both genre-bending artists who have created their own distinct styles. Indeed, “NOSEDIVE” starts out strong, with a high-energy beat and an aggressive verse from Mason. He raps like he’s in a fight, spitting rapid-fire jabs and never relenting. Sadly, Dawson’s verse is not as energetic, nor as impressive. The instrumental changes to a slower, plodding beat while Dawson comes in with a short sung verse. The abrupt change halts the momentum of the song, and even though Dawson picks up the pace at the end, the track ends with a whimper. “NOSEDIVE” had the potential to be amazing, but a strange production choice and a weak verse from Dawson made it fall flat. Both artists are very talented, so I’m sure that their future collaborations will work out better.

RUFFS was produced by two of Mason’s favorite collaborators, COUPE and Julian Cruz (who also works heavily with Dominic Fike), and this choice helped maintain a cohesive sound typical of Mason’s previous work. This uniformity works against the album, however, as many tracks sound pretty similar. Most of the songs on this album are slow and relaxed, such as “DOUBLE UP” and “SPIN N FLIP,” which both feature beats that sound straight out of Nintendo games. The latter features Young Nudy, whose vocals are mixed very differently from Mason’s. His performance is okay, but his verse sounds like it was copied and pasted from another song, which is distracting.

Mason’s vocal performances are generally good, but I wish that he would experiment more with his vocals. He’s already defined his sound: vocal distortion and a melodic style that sits right on the threshold between singing and rapping. As a songwriter, his lyrics touch on serious subjects, but at a surface level. As a rapper, he often employs intricate rhymes and flows, and his sung melodies are some of the catchiest I’ve heard. RUFFS is solid overall – it’s hard to point out any definitively weak tracks – but it’s also a bit of a boring listen. Aside from a few standouts, the rest blend into one another. It seems like Kenny Mason is pushing himself in many different stylistic directions, but isn’t fully committing to any of them. If he can connect with one of these new directions, and develop it on future albums, then Mason has the potential to create that 10/10 album by 2029.