On a basic level, Help Yourself, the latest album from hip hop duo BBGuns, could be described as pop rap. Both JP Pitt and Barz Blackman have a strong sense of flow, but their bars are usually used in service to the song as a whole rather than frequently demanding “OH SHIT” reactions to unorthodox rhyme schemes, switch-ups, and quotables. That’s not to say that they’re absent, they just aren’t really the focus. The focus more so lies in hooks that stick to your brain like a tongue to a popsicle, a varied assortment of beats that make your body move like you’re shaking off the summer sweat, and direct storytelling that casts a subtle shadow over its largely sunny atmosphere. It’s a party album in the same way Boys and Girls in America is a party album: un-ironic and unashamed, but equally uninterested in glamorization. The raps are the stitching that holds it all together: weak and it might just all fall apart; too showy and it’d all be too cluttered. Luckily, BBGuns strike the balance as well as can be expected and deliver a project that’s focused and diverse, an accessible pop rap album with a deep bag of tricks to pull from.
For a couple of guys from Pittsburgh, the influence of British music, particularly British club music, is quite strong. JP’s sung vocal hooks often share a similar cadence with Damon Albarn (the extended “There’s a hoooooooooooole in meeeeeeeeeeeee” on “Stanley” and “I need some space to roooooooooaaaaaaam” on “Backspace”) and tracks such as “Backspace” and “One Piece” could easily be mistaken as a staples in the UK hip house scene. Britpop, trip hop, and UK-based contemporary R&B seem to flavor much of the rest. This isn’t wholly new ground for the duo: their debut Thirst saw them operate within the same general framework (a stand-out from that record, “Circles (It’s Time)”, gave off strong Baggy / Madchester vibes), but there are added layers of polish and ambition here. The range of instrumentals on display here is more dynamic with fewer tracks, and BBGuns’ adaptability has improved, snuggly fitting each one like a universal hand.
Coming back to the ‘subtle shadow’, “Honey” is an excellent example of an attempt at an objectionist view of drug use. The euphoric, smoky, baked alt-rock flavored track doesn’t really present pros and cons of the act as separate, but intertwined, with JP’s “A truly beautiful way to die” expressing a concerning but seemingly content position where the risk is real and shouldn’t be ignored, but can be accepted if you appreciate the reward enough. While this is a pretty serious topic, BBGuns are still fun first throughout Help Yourself: among the cocaine, you’ll also find references to My Hero Academia (“When it’s fight or flight / I’m like All Might” from JP on stand-out lead single “Valley”) and Pokemon (“I know it’s hard as Metapods” from Blackman on the shitty blogger elbow drop “Cell”).
Elsewhere, you’ll find several solid features, such as Shay Park’s vocal contributions on the exceedingly pretty “Rose Gold”, Crafted Sounds label-mates The Zells’ instrumentation on “One Piece”, and bars from Hubbs and Moemaw Naedon on closing posse cut “Blister”. Every one adds something different and meaningful to the record without dominating the attention: again, it’s all in service of the record.
So Help Yourself is pop rap, but that’s far from the whole story. Very rarely is there so much to dig into with a record with that label attached. It works if you throw it on at a house party, it works if you pick it apart piece by piece as a hip hop head or fan of British music. Just like BBGuns adapt to their instrumentals, the record as a whole adapts to what you need it to be. Flexible and smooth.
Favorite tracks: “Valley”, “Honey”
Rating: Strongly Recommended
BBGuns’ Help Yourself is available to purchase cassette and digital here via Crafted Sounds.