Having famous family ties can be both a gift and a curse in the entertainment and pop music worlds. The advantage is that one can sometimes capitalize on the more famous relative's name recognition with fans and the public alike. That can be offset, however, with preconceived expectations built around the relative's artistic quality and/or familiarity. As the cousin of Detroit wunderkind Black Milk, Nametag has seen both sides of that dichotomy — great Milk soundbeds and noteworthy collaborations have helped his career, while the expectations have sometimes given him a limited palette. With The Soul System EP, however, Nametag takes a huge step forward in showing who he is instead of focusing on who he isn't.
Nametag's bread and butter thus far has been in his braggadocio, and Soul System shows that he hasn't lost a step in that department. He employs an authoritative, deliberate flow on the EP's single, "The Product," which boasts about his rhyme skills. Fortunately, though, he doesn't limit himself to punchlines and boasts. "Can We Try" and "About You (Part 2)" chronicle opposite statuses of romantic relationships, with the former lamenting heated arguments and the latter serenading his woman with genuine affection. And "Visionz," surely the gem of the disc, finds Tag coming to terms with his mother's death.
One of the more understated facets of Soul System is Nametag's ear for great beats. The EP is produced by area beatsmith Black Bethoven, and Tag's choices show that he doesn't only need to rely on his cousin's expertise to put together a project. The minimalist combo of chants and percussion on "The Product" are the perfect playground for his wordplay, while the sample and nostalgic feel on "Visionz" are especially fitting to pay homage to a lost loved one. Additionally, Black Bethoven's formula — samples, woodwinds and memorable drums — is comfortable sitting with what Nametag has used in the past but without completely imitating Milk's sound.
Relatives can often deal with the shadows of predecessors for their entire careers. The good ones, however, find a way to establish individuality in their own right. If The Soul System EP s any indication, Nametag is definitely on the right track.
Download "The Soul System EP" for free at nametag.bandcamp.com.
William E. Ketchem writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.