You need to listen to New Orleans producer-artist ian a. Louis’ newest offering, the “4 Year Old Album”. If you haven’t already, stop reading this and click here for glorious sonic stupification. 4 Year Old Album a focused and dense offering in hip-hop that has the timbre and stamp of true New Orleans music, living on the intersections of poverty, perseverance, and pleasure that have come to define New Orleans’ musical traditions, and the city itself. With its sublime production and slick, acrobatic wordplay, 4 Year Old Album is a cinematic, masculine outing that plays like an urban opera about the blue collar, American hustle set against the fantastic grittiness of New Orleans.
This is the photo that was used as the cover for 4 Year Old Album. It shows a young ian a. Louis (right) standing alongside his younger brother (left).
ian a. Louis has had a lot of time to get it right. A LOT of time. 4 years in fact. In the world of emerging hip-hop, where anyone with a computer and a few weeks of unemployment can crank out a mixtape, a project that takes years to craft in this age of impatience and speed feels uncanny and strangely out of place. 4 Year Old Album, from that perspective, is a rebuke of “microwave music” in favor of a more patient and in some ways, more traditional process. The resultant wait gives birth to an elegance, confidence and coherence in 4 Year Old Album that is hard to achieve without the perspective or time to invest in a project.
If you’ve spoken to ian a. Louis, you’ll understand that he’s a technical guy, the type artist that wouldn’t shy away from people like grips and studio hands when they begin to geek out on their deep recall of niche items in the profession–he can keep up with them. That same sort of attention to detail–perfectionism–might be one of the ways in which 4 Year Old Album got its name. From start to finish, each track begins, shifts, and thumps with intention, and every instrument and lyric resonates with purpose and precision.
A promotional video we cut affectionately dubbed “Seriously? 4 Years?”
Since his debut mixtape, “The Loneliest Band in Town Vol. I” ian a. Louis has pushed the boundaries of what had been traditionally considered “New Orleans hip-hop” a la Juvenile all while drawing upon and testing the genre itself. Achieving this is harder than it might seem. The pioneering epochs and dominance of No Limit and Cash Money Records from the 90s until now have had a lasting and almost deafening affect on the local scene. If a rapper didn’t emulate the B.G or Lil’ Wayne, taking on the distinctive “Uptown sound”, they reacted to the labels, went 180 degreez and made phenomenally ornate yet largely un-listenable hip-hop. Make no mistake, you can hear Mannie Fresh in ian a. Louis’ drums but they’re not Mannie Fresh’s drums. Notes of Jazz and early “Bounce” music–a native New Orleans genre made popular by artists like Big Freedia–too are woven into the music without dominating the overall spirit of the project. These are subtle yet important distinctions: ian a. Louis draws inspiration from the town that made him, but doesn’t try to emulate any one influence and that allows the music on 4 Year Old Album to be equal parts authentic and accessible.
Here’s the tracklisting:
- Why So Serious (ft. Anycia Marie)
- Rock & Roll
- Vibrate (ft. Sei & Jay Skyline)
- Runnin’ (ft. Tokyo Stone)
- Level of Execution (ft. Gunna & Jay Skyline )
- #volume (ft. Scheme)
- Dance With the Devil
- Drunk Love (ft. Suave)
- One For Dilla
There’s a little something for everyone to love on 4 Year Old Album and an equal amount to unpack. Here, ian a. Louis is more polished and sharper that he’s been on previous outings with all of the same tenacity and swagger yet at the same time, introspection and vulnerability. Storytelling is front and center on 4 Year Old Album. Songs like “Vibrate”, which borrow thematically from Andre 3000‘s homonymous track on his magnum opus The Love Below, chronicles the familiar, yet fleshy and relevant trope of the influential hood prodigy taken prematurely as a result of inner-city violence, living on forever in the bars. (A good analog is Drive Slow on Kanye West’s Late Registration album). The music on 4 Year Old Album moves fluidly on a quadrant of vibes and emotions but remains overall consistent and true to ian a. Louis’ style. From the velvet, hypnotic chill of “Why So Serious” which opens the album and the frenetic, neon colored acid-trip that is “#volume” to the raw spit of “Level of Execution” and the operatic crescendo of “Dance With the Devil”, 4 Year Old Album informs and delights.
ian a. Louis on the Brooklyn Bridge circa 2013
For all of the allusions, anecdotes, and metaphor that root the album, it never comes off preachy and “conscious”–a death knell designation for any hip-hop album. Threading the substance needle is tougher that it has been in the past, but ian a. Louis navigates the trappings of depth with elegant wordplay and beats that have undeniable, universal appeal. Achieving this balance is harder than it might sound in the era of novocaine-tongued “Molly-Rap”, a mutated outgrowth from Lil Wayne’s work with autotune during a time when Wayne was apparently always trying to get rid of his cold. While catchy, this sort of rap expression sacrifices coherence and depth for viscerality and a sort of ephemeral high that essentially amounts to a musical hit of crack–potent and forgettable. 4 Year Old Album is isn’t Molly-Rap and to be fair, also isn’t Drake’s sub-genre of lo-fi “bad-boyfriend music”, nor is it 2000s Roc-era, pink-fur opulence. 4 Year Old Album is perhaps best understood through the lens of the urban struggle and the new Black Enlightenment–not at all to be confused with the perplexing “New Black“, post-racial movement– that has come with the advent of social media and the activism of groups like Black Lives Matter. ian a. Louis is your everyday man in this outing, working hard to get whatever today’s equivalent of 40-acres and a mule is–and maybe a hot-sausage sandwich with a Red Stripe. That’s classic New Orleans. 4 Year Old Album on the other hand may very well be a new “New Orleans classic”.