When I heard that one of my co-workers, Carter Ward, produces hip-hop music after work, I assumed that it would essentially be a manifestation of memes targeting hometown rappers — a classic case of a Soundcloud rapper trying to make a name for himself. I thought Fordson Labs, featuring Coleman Greene and Carter Ward, would fit this internet stereotype: shoddily produced beats backing platitudinous, cliche lyrics. When I first looked up Ward’s Richmond, VA based hip-hop collective on Spotify, the ‘<1000’ next to some of their songs entrenched my low expectations.
However, after listening to their newest single, “New Love,” all my expectations were wiped clean. Their concise, intricate beats shook me loose from my high horse. Their clever, refined lyrics and impressive rhyme schemes felt out of place in a song with such few listens. Combining jazz influenced, instrumental sounds with soft vocal layering, Fordson Labs break past the hometown rapper stereotype, and establish themselves as a real threat in the contemporary hip-hop/R&B arena.
“New Love” begins with soft vox layers, slow building synth, and Coleman’s polished voice delivers Chance-like transitions, alternating between rapping and singing. Carter and Coleman tag team on the chorus, in tandem with a strong, speaker-rattling deep sub; the low frequencies are complemented by higher fret guitar plucks. The extended vocals set a somber tone early on. Halfway into the song, a keyboard crescendo brings in a tasteful perk of energy to the previously gloomy sound of the track. Overall, the slow, drawn out vocals, along with the protracted deep sub and soft, staccato guitar sprout a morose, melancholic contemporary track. Layers of live instruments atop layers of software instruments further the mystery created by the vocal bits, making this new single both artistic and intriguing. Fordson Labs makes their jazz influence apparent in this single. As a result, their sound draws a comparison to other contemporary R&B/hip-hop artists: Anderson .Paak, Chance the Rapper, and elements of Ab-Soul.
“New Love” is not Fordson Lab’s only release this week. When I told Carter I was writing this article, he showed me a second single they are releasing on Friday titled, “Feet Up.” This heartened track shows Coleman and Carter’s musical range, starkly contrasting the artistic, pensive single they released earlier in the week. “Feet Up” takes control of the listener, forcing their head to slowly nod with the build-up, and speed up with Carter’s bursts of phonetic ability.
Similar to “New Love,” “Feet Up” uses live instruments paired with software instruments to get the point across. This single is the combination of hype and talent that has recently been absent from mainstream hip-hop. “Feet Up” has versatility, showing creative capability and energetic power. Coleman’s singing appeals to the artistic hunger in listeners, while Carter’s solid bars feed the adrenaline crave in listeners. “Feet Up” will be available on all music streaming platforms on Friday, July 21st.
This prolific week for Fordson Labs is nothing new. Last year, they released two albums, Dove Season and Roots (2016). Earlier this summer, they released a single titled, “Stay Your Hand.” Their library is much more extensive on Soundcloud, where they have countless demos from the last five years. Fordson Labs’ performance history is also exciting. This spring, they opened for Soulja Boy at a University of Georgia fraternity party. While they are still in hometown rapper territory, “New Love” and “Feet Up” will go a long way in launching Fordson Labs to where they deserve to be.
Written by Brendan Redmond