Baauer achieves complete artistic autonomy with ‘Aa’ [Review]
Defining one’s own blueprint for success is the sort of validation toward which any artist strives. For Baauer, the release of his debut full-length album Aa is the manifestation of this end goal, kickstarting a new era in an already momentous career. Aa is the product of a long, tiresome journey for the young producer, and represents Baauer’s ascension to a level that exceeds the value of viral ubiquity; Aa represents the artists journey to completely liberated creative autonomy.
It’s a very short list of artists that have a Billboard #1 hit to their name. Infinitesimally shorter is the list of artists whose breakthrough single spurred 1,200 fan-made renditions on Youtube, and a double-platinum plaque on their wall. Within that diminutive roster, the list of artists that are not bound by a million dollar-advance recording contract has only one name: Harry Bauer Rodrigues. For Baauer to have emerged rather gracefully from the mania that was the “Harlem Shake” chapter of his career without having yet formally introduced his actual potential to the world is an impressive feat. Baauer has shown in his evasion of major labels that, in spite of his mainstream appeal, he values creative autonomy above commercial success. Aa is a beacon of uninhibited creative direction, a lack of which many believe to be crippling the recording industry. The record marks Baauer’s coming of age as he truly begins to move toward the summit of the creatively autonomous career that is his own Everest.
The same year Baauer sidestepped the Mad Decent co-sign on “Harlem Shake,” he linked with UK-stationed independent imprint LuckyMe, which has proven to be a fitting home label ever since. His first release on the label, the Dum Dum EP was largely overshadowed by “Harlem Shake’s” viral takeoff, but once the Youtube hype died down, Baauer really got to work. By late 2014 he had put out β, laying the groundwork over a year and a half in advance for the 13-track full-length. And if his debut album should have any underlying symbolism, it may be that Aa (known as “Double A”) is likely only the groundwork for an impending U and eventually an Er release in the future. Baauer is just getting started, and without any hindrances, he will undoubtedly challenge the preconceived notions of both hip-hop and dance music with each future release.
Aa is a rambunctious collection that paints a candid picture of Baauer’s beginnings as an artist. As a young man, Harry Rodrigues has already called everywhere home from Philly, to London, Brooklyn, to Germany . Following his career’s tumultuous breakthrough, he set back out on the road, searching for sonic inspiration across the globe in a joint film feature with Red Bull. Traveling – not touring – ultimately provides the inspirational bedrock beneath Aa. From the eccentric oriental string work of “Temple” to the dazzling French disco-driven pluck groove of “Pinku,” Baauer’s introductory offering is a mixed bag of worldly inspiration, tied together by an evident allegiance to his roots and his un-compromised desire to experiment. This desire spills from every corner of the project. From its masterful sound design to the eccentrically abstract artwork of the record, Aa is a flowing portrait of Baauer’s mind pressed onto wax.
The 27-year-old’s portrait wouldn’t be fully honest without a healthy dose of hip-hop. The marquee collaboration on the album ropes in versework from Pusha T and hook duties from Future on “Kung Fu,” marked by fleeting wisps of “Higher,” Baauer’s iconic collaboration with Just Blaze. “Kung Fu” is Baauer’s most radio-friendly contribution to the album, but to provide creative balance, Baauer pivots to his quintessential compositional character for tracks like “Sow,” an aggressively experimental trap production that arguably manifests itself as the LP’s strongest selection.
Photo via Sus Boy
Cumulatively, Aa is the perfect split between the hard-hitting fusion of dance, trap, and hip-hop and a handful of fearlessly strange, gripping instrumentals that hold a fundamental importance to the album’s creator above anyone else. Baauer hopscotches between inspirations, places, faces, sounds, and styles, agglomerating a bright, chaotic collection of work that is deeply authentic to his roots. Aa runs the gamut of Baauer’s full range of inspirations, ranging from the menacing grime styling of “Day Ones” to the calmative ease of “Body.” The record is the roadmap to Baauer’s own definition of success. Baauer’s motivation isn’t rooted in acheiving name recognition; Rather, it’s driven by the desire to reach personal artistic validation. Baauer has set out to make people scratch their heads, and Aa does just that. A staggering concept to note is that, by the end of the record, Baauer is still only half way through his six-letter moniker. There is much more to come from the LuckyMe proponent, but now, autonomy is the name of Baauer’s game – not ubiquity. In Aa, Baauer challenges the listener to understand that nobody’s expectations matter to him but his own, and that has to be the most validating feeling in the world to an artist following the release of his debut album.