Johnson continues to develop artistically, adding vocals and introspection to her arsenal of talents.
“Word around town, I’m that fuckin’ bitch” Kari Rose Johnson warned the world back in 2014. Five years after her debut mixtape Laugh Now, Die Later, the statement still resonates. Johnson’s effortlessly cool delivery scored her collaborations with established acts (Donald Glover) while aligning her with the stars of tomorrow (Chloe x Halle, Yung Baby Tate and bLAck pARty, who also contributed to Johnson’s Laugh Now, Die Later). With each year, she raised the bar just a little higher.
“Boys be talking down/ But they be running in place”: meanwhile, Johnson continued to develop artistically, adding vocals and introspection to her arsenal of talents. Her latest EP Cry 4 Help stands as another level up, albeit one that comes with an emotional expense to pay.
In the swell of her burgeoning career, Johnson felt her past resurfacing, bringing along with it damage she never fully addressed even in her music. Cry 4 Help unwraps this baggage thoughtfully and explicitly by channeling her perceptive wordplays inward. Against backdrops of smooth soul, her troubles are centered without enveloping the narrator entirely. The slow sway of “Medicated” introduces listeners to the Johnson of today, one who sees less allure in the presumed comfort of fame or literal medication: “I can’t see what I been chasin’, I just know my thoughts are racin’.”
She does detachment well, and unlike someone such as Kilo Kish, she adds enough inflection to be mostly engaging. As far as haste goes, the EP lacks any real movers in terms of tempo. Then again, when the subject matter gets this serious and introspective, sometimes the roll needs to slow. Prior cuts “Color Theory” and “On the Internet” prove Johnson’s relaxed flow fits just as well in an up-tempo setting, but whereas “Facetious” playfully slides away from human interaction, “Leave Me Alone” cuts it off entirely.
Even braggadocio practices restraint on Cry 4 Help. Hazy and slightly uncertain, “In the Air” speaks of new reaching new heights only to find they provide little clarity or enjoyment for Johnson. The hip-hop pulse present in “Night Time” suggests a good time, but a lone violin reveals a pining for something more substantial than just “com[ing] around when the sun goes down.”
A grand finale arrives with “Latch Key”, where Johnson pledges to “peel back the layers of trauma” methodically and explicitly. She discloses losing her virginity and a pregnancy that ends in a miscarriage, the impact of which is felt through her deep breaths and unconcealed sniffles. As she processes this tragedy, she directs her ire at those who failed to help her in her time of need, specifically her unborn baby’s father and her own mother. Her most scorching lines she saves for herself, a person described as “wounded, skinned to the bone.”
Yet by confronting these hardships, Cry 4 Help learns to heal. Things look up by “Latch Key”’s final lines, where feeling “overlooked” gives way to the joy of “being booked.” Johnson realizes that though past adversities can color her reality, her present state offers hues of hope. The woman she’s become and the blessings she’s earned provide a testament to her strength, which, like her artistry, only continues to grow.