Album Review: Darnell Smitherson’s “To One’s Own Mind”

The Lawrence University music scene last heard alumnus Romelle Loiseau ’15 on his debut full-length album, “New State Usual,” and final few shows with his rap group, Mokumbo, at the end of the past school year. As he settles into his post-college life, Loiseau continues to work on his music, releasing on April 7 “To One’s Own Mind,” an extended play (EP) he rapped over and produced on his own.

The EP—the second release under his moniker Darnell Smitherson—features Loiseau’s more introspective and mellow side. This side is shown in his lyrics as well as his beats. For me, the beat typically has to be intriguing enough to enjoy the rapping and work as a whole, which may just be a side effect of immersing myself in all sorts of music for before getting into rap.

Regardless, this EP certainly fulfills that criteria for me.

To put it simply, I would purchase “To One’s Own Mind” as a set of instrumentals as well. Each track pulled me in, even without the vocals. With this EP more so than his album, Loiseau creates a cohesive collection of dreamy, musical soundscapes that he can easily rap over, showing off his chops in both lyrics and production. The drums are not too in-your-face—not that they are on “New State Usual”—they are just more minimal here; everything sounded ethereal and beautiful; and, most importantly, the beats and Loiseau’s slightly-angry words cooperate, going hand in hand.

In “To One’s Own Mind,” Darnell Smitherson seems to have calmed down since “New State Usual,” but still does a great job of maintaining his intensity throughout several songs. It is clear he still is dealing with personal problems but he does so in a calmer and more collected way. This action is admirable and inspirational, even when he gets progressively angrier and more frustrated in “Anti.” While analyzing most rap can at first be difficult—specifically Loiseau’s, as it is as dense as most poetry—the emotional arc throughout the EP is clear and can be easily felt by its listeners as a journey of self-discovery and coping with one’s demons.

I love being able to cover such high-level hip-hop coming from someone I had the opportunity to meet and stay in touch with. Now out of college, Romelle Loiseau is beginning to grow as a musician in the real world, and I am eager to see this process continue. As a music journalist that typically reviews albums from big names, I find a unique pride comes with reviewing a peer’s official release. I am sure that this pride will be sustained with his next release.

“New State Usual” is available on Spotify and iTunes and “To One’s Own Mind” is available on iTunes.