When Save Money rapper Brian Fresco premiered his single “Higher” in the Fader last week, he told the site, “I wanted to try something musically I’ve never done before with my homie Trevor, and despite one of my friends telling me my heart wasn’t in it, I still knew this song was a hit.” With its neon dancehall beat and vocal contributions from Montreal electronic duo Blue Hawaii and Chance the Rapper, “Higher” has gained traction quickly—it’s already accumulated almost 200,000 plays on Soundcloud. On his 2014 EP, SoulMoney (produced by Tree), Fresco bowled me over with his gravelly voice, sproingy flow, and melodic delivery, but he sounds different on “Higher.” He bathes his voice in Auto-Tune, smoothing out its grain while retaining its hard-edged soulfulness.

The goal Fresco set for himself with “Higher”—to make something he hadn’t made before—also guides him on the rest of his new mixtape, Casanova. It’s part of Save Money Summer, an informal campaign of releases from the collective Fresco is part of: Casanova follows Vic Mensa’s There’s Alot Going On, Joey Purp’s iiiDrops, Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, and Sterling Hayes’s Antidepressant. Fresco’s mixtape wears its ambitions proudly, right from its first track. “Transition” has big drum loops that clap like thunder, a resplendent piano melody, and a spoken-word intro from Chicago hip-hop elder statesman GLC, who gives the young MC a cosign in his idiosyncratic, nonchalant drawl.

The best parts of Casanova are when Fresco challenges himself, allowing himself to sound out of his element. On two consecutive songs, “Dandelion” and “Together,” he’s much more sweet and vulnerable than I’ve come to expect from him—it’s particularly noticeable on “Together,” whose soft summertime bounce is adorned with feathery horns and radiant keys.

Elsewhere Fresco pushes himself to explore his inner conflicts. On the somber “Left Liquor,” he addresses his predilection for narcotics: “Family and friends tell me / Boy, you better slow it down / Haven’t you learned your lesson from Pimp C and Yams / Put the codeine down.” Against a bone-dry percussion pattern, he confronts addiction head-on, giving an all-too-familiar premise the stamp of his voice and experience.

Fresco celebrates the release of Casanova on Thursday at the Portage Theater. Save Money is billed below Fresco—according to the venue’s site, the entire collective will make an appearance.
Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.