Tyler Hipnosis is a 21-year-old producer, engineer and rapper from Durham who realizes how fruitless or fruitful that declaration can be. "Durham's on the map so we might as well keep it there/ If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere," he raps on "Fireworks," one of the sharpest cuts from his self-made debut, 40s and Shortys. Such ambition and expectation comes sobered quickly. Three tracks later, Hipnosis sings over bagpipe samples and scattershot production: "Everybody wants to make music these days/ Everybody wants to be a star."
In part for that reason, 40s and Shortys works to be more than just another hip-hop album for either underground huddles or mainstream masses, hoping to meet a common ground of imagination and accessibility. It's successful in chunks: Hipnosis pits flips about the pools of money and women that surely will belong to him against ideas about the importance of history and the value of being himself—a young, ambitious black man making his own music in this decade. His mainstream nods ensure mighty boom-bap beats not far removed from 9th Wonder's iterated soul samples but with a stronger snare pop. Simultaneously, Hipnosis' roving imagination allows him to open a track with seven seconds of noise and deliver an entire song about trying to get a drink at the bar over a beat muffled to sound like a music box or to sample his own vocal hook about how good hooks are hard to find.
That's Hipnosis at his best, all nerdy swagger and grinning charm. As he tells people about the money he'll make or that he's in the "next" queue for the world's iPod playlist, he confesses that the glow of a beautiful girl makes his knees shake "like a third-grade erection." Or, tracks before digressing on a meta-social question about the implications of a colorless world, he delivers this brilliantly mixed message: "When I say I'm in the lab, that's really where I'm at/ Doing scientific method-based experiments/ And my point is proven if anyone is hearing this."
Editing—or, properly, 40s and Shortys' lack of it—is Hipnosis' hurdle here. At 16 tracks and 46 minutes, entire sections of this debut could be excised, while others could be tightened and perhaps rerecorded so that a handful of conspicuous missteps wouldn't interfere with his plenty-clever rhymes and oft-capable beats. But think of this as Hipnosis's bullpen: He's hand-printed and pressed every copy, so this is his experiment, his planning phase. He's not looking for fame yet. He knows a lot of work should go into having that.