West-side rapper Philmore Greene has been crafting a catalog of mature, unfussy boom-bap since he dropped his 2018 debut, Chicago: A Third World City. His new fourth full-length, Cost of Living (released by esteemed hip-hop indie Mello Music Group), builds on his established elements—relaxed, sample-based instrumentals and thoughtful ruminations about the systemic unfairness that has historically afflicted Black people (and the frustrating new ways it manifests itself thanks to modern technology). But the album also feels rejuvenated, as though Greene’s creativity has been reborn and he’s newly excited to be doing the same work. This is no doubt in part because he’s found a collaborator who can supersize his vision: veteran Detroit beat maker Apollo Brown, who’s also worked with established MCs such as Guilty Simpson, Skyzoo, and Ghostface Killah. The producer populates Cost of Living with tracks built from lightly dusty samples that accentuate the crispness in his understated percussion. This music has a self-consciously throwback feel, but as much as Greene shows his deference to hip-hop history, he doesn’t let it distract him from focusing his songs on the present. He’s an unflashy rapper who delivers frank descriptions with a workingman’s confidence and care. His voice functions as a sturdy element in the album’s instrumentation; he ends his lines with exclamation points, so that each one lands like a rim shot in a drum break, and he smooths out the flow of his songs with a subtly soulful, melodic touch. On “Steep Life,” Greene reflects on the bleak socioeconomic outlook for young Black men, delivering his lyrics with his whole chest—he raps like he wants you to believe that even when the world blocks your path, you can make your own way where no one expects it.
Philmore Greene & Apollo Brown’s The Cost of Living is available through Bandcamp.