Chicago rapper XVRHLDY has been hard at work. In the last few years, he's released multiple EPs (Steady, Breeze, About Time), as well as the 14 song album Thrill. Scattered between these standalone projects is the ongoing trilogy Need to Know. Need to Know Part 2: LUNA garnered a swarm of attention for XVRHLDY (on sites like Pigeons&Planes, DJ Booth, Complex, and more), and now he returns to complete the trilogy.
Need to Know III: NOVA is X's most visionary release yet. At 17 tracks - and available only on his website - the lengthy album is almost entirely solo with only one guest feature from fellow Chicagoan Mick Jenkins. The project is deeply personal. Throughout the album, for example, XVRHLDY opens and closes various songs with audio clips from fans around the world (including Russia and South Africa) showing love to the Windy City MC.
To put it in X's own words, NOVA is "a quest for inner peace stuffed with a tale of triumph broiled over an open flame of life lessons." At times cocky and confident, it's also sorrowful, and almost always coming for your neck. Treating aggression as a medicine. Spitting up soul and throwing it in the sky. Ideal for a reflective night drive.
A perfectionist and concise creator, X pours out his heart on the opening track, "Worth a Thousand Words", by tossing around strong images for the listener to digest. From record deals to sick family members to daily struggles that come from a broke(n) home and the duality that arrives when talent meets speed bumps. It's a gripping narrative from the jump and one hell of an introduction, nudging the listener into the rabbit hole of a cohesive album.
Bass-heavy medleys are steadily present and effective. Like on the 2-for-1 track "Deep Space / Over the Moon", or on the powerful "Check List". With NOVA, success blends with stress. With doubt, with shootouts, with daily mayhem and fights to stay alive on the west side of Chicago. The harrowing track "POV", for example, juggles the multiple struggles of Chicago (school closings, dead bodies in the street, ambulances driving into oblivion). "I hope I find just what I'm looking for," X murmurs, before his added rage forces him to say, "I hope I find just who I'm looking for."
Throughout this album, X proves how he can craft galactic with tragic. He can sculpt cosmic knowledge hung in the clouds then throw the listener down into the streets where anything can happen. Both blessings and evils. It's an experience to press play. Dense yet contained. Give yourself a proper hour away from reality and step inside XVRHLDY's rough, tumble, and pre-meditated world.