The first half is infuriating, the second just boring.
A major-label debut, or at least a debut on a vaunted indie, should tell us who the artist is and what they have to offer. Showtime, Baba Stiltzâ€™s debut EP for XL, doesnâ€™t even tell us if heâ€™s kidding. Thereâ€™s this post-modern, post-ironic plague of artists who sidetrack sincerity with smirking self-awareness, and it just seems pointless. If youâ€™re for real, why mask it with winking irony? And if itâ€™s all a gag, doesnâ€™t that mean that any sincerity in the work is just a red herring?
Stiltz is a 24-year-old Swedish singer-producer who made a couple of wispy freak-folk albums as the Babylon Beard Syndicate as a teen before switching to soul-sampling hip hop and deep house. Heâ€™s made beats for Yung Lean, and like that artist, he seems drunk off the novelty of a waifish, white indie kid imitating the affectations of mainstream pop and rap. The title track is a Drake pisstake, with Stiltz grousing about fake friends while showing off â€śbags full of money/youâ€™ve never seen this much money before.â€ť Does he really have all that money? Iâ€™d guess not.
â€śNow weâ€™re having fun,â€ť he sings on â€śSituation,â€ť singing the last word like a voice actor trying out for the role of a henchman. He could have gotten away with singing the line sincerely. We know he can sing. Thereâ€™s a moment earlier on the song where he triumphantly declares his love for the girl heâ€™s singing to in a voice that sounds just a little bit like the raspy West Coast singer-rapper Anderson .Paak. So when we hear him sing â€śfuhhhn,â€ť we can assume heâ€™s taking the piss out of pop stars who sing guilelessly about having fun. But we canâ€™t be sure, and it doesnâ€™t make the music beguiling but frustrating. Are we not supposed to be having fun?
The first two tracks on the EP are dusty crate-digger hip-hop. He knows his way around a soul sample, but not more than a lot of beatmakers still toiling in the pits of SoundCloud; we end up retaining his slurring and durr-ing more than the music. The latter two tracks are house, and on both, Stiltzâ€™s voice is slathered in Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune is a boon for his music if only because he canâ€™t bend notes off-key to let listeners know heâ€™s being smart. These tracks sound better while theyâ€™re on, but theyâ€™re less memorable. The first half is infuriating, the second just boring.
What was Stiltz thinking? The EP is ostensibly so-named because itâ€™s the young producerâ€™s biggest stepping stone yet. But bring him before XLâ€™s Richard Russellâ€”a man who could buy his kids fresh new ponies for every new Adele or Tyler, the Creator albumâ€”and he puts on this clown show? The word â€śshowtimeâ€ť will always make me think of Mr. Incredible popping on his mask before dashing off around town for some do-gooder work. But Showtime is more like some egotistical class clownâ€™s YouTube channel. Maybe it should have been titled What’s Up, Guys!