There needs to be some kind of discussion soon about how emo-rap simply isn’t a sustainable medium. Like all fads within music, it’s ephemeral by design, but when it’s already reached a point of saturation with the veracity that it has, it’s hard to see what new artists emerging can actually bring when they’re all playing to the same depressed, nihilistic template as everyone who came before them. And with that in mind, here’s dying in designer, the pseudonym of Bobby O’Brien who apparently has something to offer within the emo-rap scene thanks to co-signs from Trippie Redd that subsequently led him to being signed by Hopeless. As far as music goes, it’s not like O’Brien has displayed much more beyond the expected banality, but given his openness about how debut album Nobody’s Happy. is inspired by what he’s described as the worst year of his life, it’s worth at least contemplating the benefit of the doubt and whether there could actually be more to this one than the torrents of copycats operating at such a base level.
But let’s face it – in a scene that feels as though it actively discourages any sort of creativity most of the time, why would it be necessary to even attempt anything distinct or original? The Hopeless signing has already given the alternative media all the excuse needed to latch onto this regardless of the outcome, and thus what could’ve been a cathartic purges winds up as another moaning, listless bore that hinges more on ear-catching melodrama than anything significantly impactful. That’s not to say that the real-life inspiration isn’t there, but when it’s played to so blatantly capitalise on emo-rap’s glamourised portrayals of depression and self-destructive tendencies, there’s barely anything worth paying attention to here.
It’s O’Brien himself who stands at the heart of all of this as well, and how little of worth there is to glean from being so hollow and performative in his role within this genre. He somehow has even less vocal personality than most of the emo-rap clones, relying on nasal drawls without even a hint of fluidity or inflection that fall somewhere in between Lil Peep at his most nondescript and Tom DeLonge at his most annoying. It’s not like that doesn’t feel like a calculated approach though, especially when Nobody’s Happy. is an album that wants to feign depth, but sways towards either flat nihilism that’s become a depressingly predictable norm, or the sort of unearned, underdeveloped melodrama that’s irresistible to fourteen-year-old white boys going through their first real breakup. And that’s the crux of why this album just doesn’t work; for as much as the breakup and sour, clouded emotions that run through the entirety of this album have clearly been at the centre of O’Brien’s worst year, he never gives any suitable details beyond the breakup happened and the wallowing followed. There’s certainly appeal in such reactionary, human emotions, but when so much is omitted between the initial event and O’Brien’s own suicidal desires on the opener Pull It beyond a single off-hand reference to turning to drugs on Down N Out, none of this connects together in a way that feels earned, or in a way that exists for any other reason than to appeal to a young audience who’ll find solace in such inflated emotional extremities. And it’s not like O’Brien can pull it off as a lyricist either, as he defaults to laughably tired and trite emo clichés that could almost certainly be a parody if they weren’t played so seriously; choice lines of “I could drown in my own tears” and “I hate when we fight but I love all the pain” on Lately or “I would die for you / Would you die for me too?” on Hopeless Romantic are the sort of fodder that’ll eventually come out of emo-rap parodies, not actually songs trying so vehemently to sell their own sincerity and falling flat on their face.
Now, at least to this album’s credit, there’s a decent ear for production that can lend a bit more depth that can be at least a bit more interesting. Promises (Green Eyes) sees the swirling vocal samples courtesy of producer GOLDHOUSE matched with a rumbling guitar line in a way that gels rather well, and a quicker, more snarling central riff on a track like Down N Out veers closer to rap-rock tones that aren’t disagreeable. But like essentially everything else in emo-rap, the core ideas are run into the ground to point where they lose all effectiveness, and it becomes increasingly difficult to differentiate Nobody’s Happy. from anything else in the scene. For all the atmosphere they give, the guitars still remain the sole source of flow as they slither in the background, as the most generic selection of trap beats are laid over them in a way that totally forgoes realistic pacing to fully wring out every last drop on an idea that’s already verging on bone-dry. There’s no real innovation or distinction here, as if it’s O’Brien’s aim to come across as utterly interchangeable as possible which succeeds more than it really should.
But that’s not surprising in the slightest. It’s not like there’s much hope for emo-rappers to deliver on any scale of quality these days, especially ones who’ve been elevated to this status with pretty much nothing to back it up besides the names they keep around them. Therefore, that serves as pretty damning evidence for why dying in designer’s career will be as abortive as it inevitably will – there’s nothing here that can possibly stand out against the other swathes of faceless wannabes peddling the exact same threadbare wares. At least with artists like nothing,nowhere. or Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, for as similarly misguided as their hopes are, they’re putting in effort to deliver a somewhat discernible spin on the sound; Nobody’s Happy., on the other hand, bundles together emo-rap clichés in a starter pack for sheltered rock fans who might not be familiar with the sound yet, but will see the Hopeless backing as the credibility that dying in designer most definitely does not have. For that, and for as blatantly shallow and undersevedly high-minded as it is, it’s best to just avoid.
For fans of: Lil Peep, Smokeasac, Paris Shadows
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nobody’s Happy.’ by dying in designer is released on 16th August on Hopeless Records.