Ever since the deterioration his partnership with Young Thug, a prolonged battle with his label, and controversy surrounding some tasteless lyrics, Rich Homie Quan has been fighting an uphill battle. His long-delayed album Rich as in Spirit, is, like last year's Back to the Basics EP, very clearly a response to these past few years turmoil. It contains songs called "Reflecting," "Achieving," "Changed"— which should tell you all you need to know about its tone. Quan is introspective, determined, and still a tiny bit jaded at the way things shook out. Having all but lost the momentum that once propelled him to commercial and critical heights, he's made the decision to focus on his craft, to speak from the heart and hope that the honesty reaches his fans.
Rich as in Spirit might be the first comeback attempt by a former pop success that doesn't go out its way to chase hits. Quan sticks to his own experiences and keeps his circle small, musically speaking, working predominantly with established Atlanta producers Cassius Jay and Nard & B, as well as Bronx-based Ear Drummer 30 Roc, who between "Bartier Cardi," "King's Dead," and "Rake It Up," has had a pretty huge past six months. The beats aren't really old school in any way, but as Quan put it in my interview with him last year, they seem to be chosen for their ability to showcase his storytelling, rather than soundtracking a turn-up or turning heads with their grandiosity. Rich as in Spirit has a warm, rich, well-developed sound, but it's not necessarily fun. Except when he lets his guard down for a night revelry on "Let's Go Up," Quan follows suit, in that he sounds so focused that it seems like he wouldn't exactly be the life the party.
"I was prolly leavin' the studio when they was on they way to breakfast," he raps on the especially stoic "The Author," "When they was prolly goin' to sleep, I was still up I was goin' extra." Quan's responded to a few years dead air by working as hard as he possibly could (or at least saying he did, and he sounds pretty damn convincing), which is a logical decision, but not necessarily one that's guaranteed to launch him back to the top. The music industry doesn't really work like most day jobs, and so Quan's assertion that he's "employee the month because I work the hardest" smacks desperation.
Wanting it more than the next guy is not how many #1 singles get made, but in Quan's case, it helps his passion come through loud and clear. He's always been the soul in a city filled with big personalities— nowhere was that more apparent and effective than on Tha Tour Pt. 1— able to evoke emotion with ease and not rely on gimmicks to get noticed, and that's what he continues to improve on Rich as in Spirit. It's oddly perfect that he's now signed to Motown, not because his music is in any way retro-baiting the label's classic sound, but because Quan's always shared something with blues and soul singers that most rappers don't. His voice conveys ragged pain, so it's almost more fitting to hear him fighting his way out a corner than triumphantly boasting on an uptempo beat.
The album's overlong, as I expect we'll be saying about most this year now that everyone's figured out stream trolling, but Quan sticks to his guns throughout, rarely changing his dedicated, hardworking tone. This can get a little tiresome with the umpteenth boast about his first million, or umpteenth insistence that he's on his grind, but I suppose it's better than filling out the back half Rich as in Spirit with a bunch "Flex (Ooh Ooh)" Pt. 2 attempts.
Rich as in Spirit is solid, and I can't find much else to complain about, but it's not something that seems to warrant extensive repeat listens. Quan fans should be happy to hear him back rapping in peak form, and content with a comeback album that's not awkward or overly cloying, but not entirely satisfied with an hour music that covers the same ground and coasts at midtempo throughout. Once Quan has something to rap about that's not working hard to maintain relevance, I expect he'll get right back to making infectious tracks that cut deep and stick in your mind long after they finish playing.