Syracuse based rapper Evil Key (Jonas Nicholson) follows his 2020 release SAVE FACE//ESCAPE FATE with his newest concept album The Host. Nicolson is also member of fellow Syracuse psychedelic jam rock band Vaporeyes. The Host is a brave departure from any of Nicholson’s previous work done with Vaporeyes, opting for a bold lo-fi rap concept album that explores becoming a new person, possibly without your control.
About a decade ago, I had a particular experience that changed my life. I made positive changes and stopped being overall self-destructive. Looking back at it now, it feels like a lifetime ago. Like a different person. What if I am? What if I’ve been taken over? What if I’ve been someone else all these years? Would I know? Am I in here?Evil Key, Rapper
Meeting at the crossroad between the moody emo rap ruling the mainstream and the nerdy backpack rap of the early 2000s, Evil Key finds a unique niche to fill. While Evil Key’s influences from the likes of Aesop Rock to Eminem are abundantly clear, he operates in a unique enough lane that it does not take much out of the overall experience. The Host offers a stellar mix of beats from upbeat synth driven songs like “The Host”, to more spaced out cloud rap tracks like “Happy”, to noisy sample heavy tracks like “Concords”; all containing a particular lo-fi edge. “Hear It Still” has a particular vocal sample that meshes perfectly with the tracks chilled-out hook.
Evil Key’s amateurish lunch room battle rap approach to rapping is endearing at first, but quickly becomes the records biggest flaw. Evil Key will often go off on tangent-like flows, such as on “FYPM,” that only serve the purpose of flexing his ability to rap fast rather than add an appealing sonic element to the songs. This tactic comes across awkward and can kill the mood of the multitude of somber and reflective songs on the album. With the beat being as subdued and laid back as they are, this hyper-aggressive approach to rap does not mesh well. On songs like “Hear it Still,” Evil Key is able to find a much more measured flow that shows he is capable of a more relaxed approach.
While The Host’s core concept is vague and hard to follow, the basic themes of depression, reinvention and paranoia are easy to identify with and ring throughout each track. As a whole, the album is a cohesive experience with each track sonically and lyrically meshing well together. The general mood of the album is oppressively gloomy and with pockets of light such as on songs like “The Host.” Each track being as versatile as they are adds to the engaging seamless listening sequence.
The overwhelming highlight of The Host is Evil Key’s impressive lyrical ability; Evil Key is able to create incredibly verbose bars seemingly effortlessly. Creating impressive rhyme schemes such as on songs like “Usurper.” Evil Key offers an endless stream of impressive rhymes that refuse to let up at any point throughout the album. While the nonstop rhymes are undoubtedly impressive, just like with the aggressive flows, they often act directly against some of the more subdued moments on the albums such as “Good Morning.”
Overall, The Host is an ambitious sophomore effort from Evil Key. An array of diverse beats do wonders in crafting the album’s depressing mood, some even being produced by Evil Key himself. Lyrically, Evil Key proves he is a force to be reckoned with on the mic, dropping one clever and emotional bar after another. What sets Evil Key apart from his obvious influences is his ability to craft unique and focused song concepts along with his dictionary-like lyrical arsenal. Even if Evil Key’s flows set the mood of certain songs off-kilter, what this album shows more that anything is serious potential in the budding artist.
The Host is available for purchase physically on CD and Bandcamp as well as streaming on all platforms.
Key Tracks: The Host, No Exorcism, Hear it Still