While going through a year of blows with a rough kidnapping and a broken engagement, while making it through college, and for reasons only known to him, not being able to tell a word of this to anybody, Cloudy Retro dropped clues about his mental anguish in his raps and songwriting, and the album, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen is the result. A determined outpouring of cryptic lyricism flows relentlessly throughout the 16-track album, testifying to the fact that it’s not just an album for Cloudy Retro, but a means for maintaining focus among turbulent environmental circumstances.
Not your typical hip hop or rap album, in Cloudy Retro’s words, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen “draws influence from a variety of musical genres from several regions around the world, including Morocco, Japan, Chile and China.” The global eclecticism is evident from the very outset, as the opening track, “Babycakes,” leads with Hawaiian guitar playing alongside a high female voice in the background, followed by a boom-bap drum beat kicking in together with Cloudy Retro’s sixteenth-note rap-vocal delivery, a technique often used throughout the album. The confident rolling of the voice and drums abruptly takes a step back after a few bars as the first hint of something wrong happening peaks in, an intercom-like recording of a person becoming mentally disoriented during a pizza order: “Hi, I wanted to order a pizza please. Uh, damn. I don’t know. I can’t remember. Sorry.” The track ends prematurely at the one-minute mark.
Instrumentally, each track unfolds another part of the world, with the Spanish guitar guiding the second track, “Yeah Habeeb Tea,” the trap of “Rose Gold,” the acoustic rock guitar four-chord progression driven “Windy Love,” a pop Rhodes organ and piano driven beat with “Ramadan,” the free-flow guitar, subtle keys and percussion in “Sunscreen,” an electro-dance-with-a-twist in “Honestly,” a hypnotic sweeping synth and repetitive beat structure in “Adderall,” another acoustic guitar track with boom-bap drums, reminiscent somewhat of 2pac’s “My Block” but with a completely different vocal delivery in “Get Wasted,” a band-like setting with acoustic guitar, piano, keyboard, female backing vocals and drums for “Ten Years Speech,” delicate and sparse bell-like keyboards gradually developing into an ensemble of synth-strings, flute, electronic boom-bap drums and female backing vocals in “Embrace the Faker,” a xylophone with a deep synth and 808 strangely working harmoniously with the first entrance of RnB voice and Cloudy Retro’s signature contemplative rap in “Twelver.”
“Jeem Dream” can be considered the album’s title track, strutting in with invigorated vibe at track 13. Its repetitive grooves and lyrical structures make it the easiest to absorb, turning it into the album’s catchiest song. The hook—“27 letters in the alphabet, I said I wanted one. 27 letters in the alphabet, I said I want none”—carves its way inside your brain as Cloudy Retro repetitively forces it as a hook, and continues bouncing off it into the verses. Cloudy Retro once again drops clues as to what he’s going through in a cryptic code of alluring lyricism that has a quality of slipping through your fingers the more you think you’re grasping its meaning. Genius’ annotators would have a PhD dissertation on their hands with this release.
After “Jeem Dream,” “Pagan” on track 14 also makes a strong statement, being the first track where the female voice exits from the background, and forms the most powerful element in the hook. Four-to-the-floor piano stabs, back-and-forth kick-and-snare dialog, and Middle East-inspired strings set the foundation for Cloudy Retro’s verbal painting of a scenery and events that becomes all the more elusive the more its details become clearer.
Albeit a very personal release to Cloudy Retro, Eleven Thirteen Sixteen further delineates hip hop and rap in its heyday era of being able to take any kind of instrumental influence from around the world, add a beat and rap a message over it, and allow the artist to communicate his or her deepest feelings, questions, doubts, anxieties, pleasures and pains. Cloudy Retro makes the point with Eleven Thirteen Sixteen: first and foremost, the artist uses the medium to communicate these feelings and make sense of things to himself, and by delivering it to the cloud, he leaves his door slightly open, so anyone can come and start trying to decode the tapestry of states that Cloudy Retro went through during this stormy time in his life. In Cloudy Retro’s humble words: “Because I wasn’t able to speak about the kidnapping or the break-up with anyone until a year later, I wrote the entire album and hid subtle clues throughout its lyrics as a cry for help. This album is a lot more to me than just an album. It may not be perfect, but it’s mine, and I’d love to share it with everyone.” - Review by @44faced