We’ve all felt it at some point during the 19 months and counting of the pandemic: an anguish amplified by loss, even if we’ve been lucky enough that no one close to us has died from the virus or developed long COVID. (If your life since March 2020 has been absolutely untroubled, I have to assume you’re a sociopath, a billionaire, or both.) Even in the Before Times, artists across the pop spectrum were mining trauma to make music that was acutely aware of their vulnerability and pain—and the pandemic has made suffering so widespread and mundane that an even greater number of listeners can relate to such material. Distress has saturated pop’s idiom. Chicago rapper SoloSam takes a journey through grief on his new Principles to Die By (Steak Worldwide/SoloSam), but fortunately he avoids contemporary cliches along the way. On “Tree,” for example, Sam lists the ills bearing down on the world—the stress of making ends meet on minimum wage, the racism of the prison-industrial complex—with such focused calm that it feels like he can get his arms around these bigger-than-life problems simply by speaking them. Sam wrings the energy out of his worries and transforms it into a calming elixir, which saturates the song’s sumptuous, low-key R&B instrumental. Principles to Die By is less therapeutic than empathetic—he’s working through some things, and he’s sharing his process, but he doesn’t pretend he can help anyone else the way he’s helping himself. All the same, when Sam opens up about his shortcomings and reflects on his resilience on “WISL” he sounds like someone you’d want to confide in.
SoloSam’s Principles to Die By is available through his website.