Updated: Feb 11
Favorite Track: "Product Of My Environment (feat. Kota The Friend & Erik The Architect)
Least Favorite Track: "Something To Remember Me By"
Since its inception in 2011, hip hop collective Pro Era has consistently boasted a roster filled with some of rap's most skilled lyricists. From Joey Bada$$ to CJ Fly, the New York posse has long maintained a sound that places emphasis on lyricism over pop appeal. Yet despite the groups clear lyrical prowess many of the members have failed to release notable albums, instead littering their catalogs with forgettable singles and underground features. No member checks this box more clearly than twenty-seven year old Nyck Caution. Within the majority of his work his lyrical dexterity is near undeniable, much like many of his Pro Era contemporaries. However, it is clear that Caution has struggled to carve out a musical identity beyond that of his pen game. His 2016 mixtape Disguise The Limit exemplified Nyck’s New York rap roots but failed to string together compelling songs. Often the tapes' standout moments felt like nothing more than studio cyphers, lyrically competent but underdeveloped in every other regard. There are a few moments on the project where Nyck’s lyrical expertise is enough to carry a song, but usually, it's because he pairs it with a carved delivery that pursues a particular emotion. The best example of this is “Baptize”. The song’s production is minimalist, but Caution’s rap delivery oozes with motivation. He sports a cold-hearted and confrontational tone that begs his doubters to try him. When Caution fails to provide songs with this very kind of character driven ethos, only his lyricsm is no longer enough to make compelling tracks, thus is the main issue with his debut studio album Anywhere But Here.
As with Nyck Caution’s previous work, Anywhere But Here is an album that trades re-playable songs for quick-witted lyrics. The vast majority of the project’s fourteen songs either possess no hook at all, or one that’s passable at best. Caution seems constantly bent out of shape on this album when he discusses other rappers and their lack of lyrical ability, as if he has a long and fleshed out career under his belt. He throws shots at melodic-based modern hip hop on multiple ocassions, in a fashion that’s almost similar to what Eminem did on 2018’s Kamikaze. One example is on “What You Want (feat. GASHI)”, where he levies a backhanded attack on Cole Bennett of Lyrical Lemonade fame and expresses contempt over who the videographer has chosen to help establish. “Ten thousand plus hours tryna work on your grind/While Cole Bennett made a star for the thirteenth time/That's no shade, just drink the lemonade”. The first example of Anywhere But Here’s heavy focus on lyricism comes as the album’s intro, “December 24th (feat. Elbee Thrie)”. Caution introspectively discusses and meditates on the events that he has experienced on December 24th, a date where he lost fellow Pro Era member Capital STEEZ in 2012, and more recently: his father. The track is one of the album’s only emotional moments, whereas the rest of it serves as more of an homage to Caution’s father. The song’s instrumental is airy and minimal, with the first half simply consisting of a singular synthesizer loop and eventually adding drums in the second half. The song is one verse long, and concludes with an outro consisting of a duet vocal passage with Caution and Elbee Thrie. When stacked, the two’s vocals leave much to be desired in terms of melodic appeal.
The title track follows this, and possesses a very similar formula to its predecessor. Once again, this song’s structure is simply an intro, one verse and then an outro. Its instrumental remains jazzy, employing some distorted keys and backing vocal passages. While fine when it’s playing, the track is painfully forgettable and doesn’t seem to have a clue what it intends to accomplish. As Anywhere But Here continues, it begins to use a reminiscent formula to its first two songs. The monotony is occasionally broken, but usually thanks to a clever guest appearance. On “Bad Day” Caution holds his own while spitting alongside the lyrically skilled Denzel Curry. The track is one of the album’s more memorable moments on account of its bombastic trap instrumental that clearly has its sights set on being a banger, even if the song’s first verse punches under its weight a little. Denzel and Nyck go bar for bar; a sentiment that is very interesting at its core. The problem is that their voices are so similar that these two trading bars doesn’t provide the stark variance that two MC’s trading bars on a verse usually does. Nonetheless, “Bad Day” provides Anywhere But Here with a moment of much needed focus and direction.
While it also lacks a hook or sticky chorus, “Product of My Environment (feat. Kota The Friend & Erik The Architect)” is easily the album’s most shining and memorable cut. Similar to the aforementioned “Baptize” from Disguise The Limit, this song functions on account of its memorable lyrical themes and overall ethos (and its guests don’t hurt it either). Kota, Erik, and Nyck, trade verses as they all cover their shared home-city of New York. The song also features some of the album’s best production from Freddie Joachim, who provides a far jazzier and more notable beat than most of what else is offered on Anywhere But Here.
Despite Anywhere But Here failing to break Pro-era’s curse of unfulfilled potential, it’s a somewhat-solid outing for Nyck Caution. While most of the album’s songs are sufficient and expressive, it is very clear that Anywhere But Here isn’t the best album that Nyck Caution will make in his career, with all signs pointing to him having a much better body of work in his wheelhouse. Whenever that body of work appears, it will need to tackle the glaring issues of this project head on. Anywhere But Here is unfocussed and directionless, and if Nyck Caution intends to live up to his potential, it will take an album that is not only more focussed and directional, but overall less underwhelming and more impactful than this one.