By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
He does not mention FarFetched in the next track "NameLook" — the track was written before the collective formed — but the group comes to mind with the line "I surround myself with a certain breed of crooks who don't follow the same book." "NameLook" deals more broadly with the St. Louis community. "It's easy to have city pride and be uplifted and positive," Chisholm says. "But that's not really how I work and what motivates me. I'm thinking about how to talk about the city I'm in with the attitude I'm in. It's exciting to make music and be from St. Louis, and a lot of people haven't heard that story. The underdog complex, that mystery is just ingrained."
Chisholm ends "NameLook" with "When I'm making these moves/It's W.W. MacGyver D. with his neck in the noose" and follows with "Implode," a track that touches on mortality and fame with the urgency of a bomb countdown. He asks, "I wonder if Stevie's gonna die with his eyes closed/And if so, who am I to leave mine exposed?" The song reverses itself in a palindromic form not unlike fellow local rapper Prince Ea's viral "Backwards Rappers," but 18andCounting's is more nervous breakdown than afterschool special.
Stan Chisholm closes out Unstrumental Raps with its most conventional pair of tracks. "Bounce" is all well-earned braggadocio and contains the only direct shout-out to his FarFetched crew. The final track, "Split Seconds," is his most melodic and structured, recurring hook and all, but any normality is erased by Chisholm and Damon Davis' decision to record the vocals outside, behind Davis' studio to allow sounds of wind and distant street noises to seep into the microphone.
"Whatever I make, it's always set out to be a full-blown song, but I end up breaking it down and stripping it," Chisholm says. "I put 'Split Seconds' last on the record because it is the most complete song from a practical sense. You can think of it as a 'to be continued' kind of thing."
Unstrumental Raps is an immediate and challenging collection that blurs boundaries and raises more questions than it answers. It invites deep excavation of its lyrics and long conversations about them afterward. It is not the kind of record an artist makes in order to propel himself into stardom, although it may sell enough copies for Stan Chisholm to buy a drum machine. The entire album is a big ellipsis, and what lies next for 18andCounting is anybody's guess. But no matter what the form, the guiding principles will likely remain humble, honest, relentless and, as he says it, "dead serious about fucking shit up."