In 2016, MadeinTYO’s “vibes” music seemed novel. The name may sound cringeworthy, but that was the only way to describe the heavy-on-style, light-on-substance aesthetic that kind of evokes Playboi Carti’s uber-chill demeanor, but not quite. K Swisha and ICYTWAT were MadeinTYO’s vices. Through them, he created mesmerizing bangers - partly because of their atmospheric yet rugged beats, but also because of MadeinTYO blatantly not saying anything of substance while still managing to make it sound good. Carti at least tries to bridge ideas together. MadeinTYO, on the other hand, throws words into a rap Mad Libs and recites them verbatim. This unique combination of sounds brought him fame and fortune, which subsquently brought him some time to relax - surveying the game and dropping music only when he needed to. His new album Sincerely, Tokyo shows that he should have been preparing for the test. He passes this time, but by the skin of his teeth.
As fast as rap is, if you kick your feet up to relax, you better be damn sure that your shit is solid. There’s always a new movement rising up underneath your feet or a rapper threatening to wrestle you from your place of comfort. Look at Trinidad James, look at OG Maco, look at O.T. Genasis. MadeinTYO’s a little more iconoclastic than these other guys, but the principle still stands. The past two years haven’t necessarily gotten him out of his element, and he doesn’t sound as groundbreaking as he once did. Sincerely, Tokyo seeks to make up for the time past by throwing everything from the cabinet into the skillet, hoping that the finished product tastes like it took time and effort to make. It’s passable. But at 14 tracks, it sounds overblown. There’s not enough ideas here to justify 14 tracks – hell, maybe not even ten.
This mixed bag tries to hit the marks of his earliest atmospheric sounds, but much of it sounds too tame. From the get-go, the album goes on autopilot. “On the Map” telegraphs its “bombastic album opener” title with its not-quite trap production, slight autotune, and fast flow mix, but it’s not memorable in the slightest. All of the extra breaths and sighs between words in the chorus and the empty verses that lack the ease-of-use feel found in earlier versions of the aesthetic just make the eyes burn and the ears begin to bleed. “Retro 88” is reminiscent of his best work, perhaps because K Swisha is the one pulling the strings again. The production is just weird enough to make MadeinTYO’s closed eyes, shaking-head-while-gripping-the-microphone-in-the-studio performance work. This alternating wave of highs and lows continues throughout.
Part of what makes this project seem a little flimsy is MadeinTYO’s newfound commitment to provide a party record or die trying. What made “Skateboard P” and “Uber Everywhere” work as kindling for mosh pits is that these songs came from the heart. He stumbled into goofy successes with nonsensical rhyme packages powered on by knocking beats that make the listener want to smile and start dancing. But attempts to recreate this effortless cool audio shtick misfire one after another. “2 Flights” and “Outstanding” come one after another and sound nearly identical. K Swisha produces one, Ronny J produces the other; both put the listener to sleep. When artists go for barebones instrumentals like these, their energy is supposed to liven up the proceedings with eclectic performances. But MadeinTYO is incapable of this kind of creative tinkering – instead, it sounds like the cheap imitations of Waka Flocka Flame trap that producers worked their best to recreate in the early 2010s. Here, MadeinTYO is imitating himself. “Lil Bih” with 24hrs almost makes you shut the album off with its similar lack of imagination. But things do get better, somewhat.
“Moshi Moshi” is classic Super Mario Bros music. It’s just odd enough to work with its odd instruments and jumpy atmosphere; not quite bubbly, yet energetic and in need of Ritalin. The next switch up comes in the form of slower music – something that hasn’t been in MadeinTYO’s repertoire yet, so it’s nice to see some form of uniqueness here. “What’s Gwannin” is an indicator of what MadeinTYO can do when he does actually step outside of his comfort zone. He channels his cousin 24hrs' ability to squeeze new use out of autotune, going for a not-quite-there atmospheric appearance that makes the song simmer with a spacey elegance. “Jump” is similarly out there with the vocal effects, yet more in the middle ground with its attempt at orchestrating a moshpit. “Margiela” splits the middle ground again here, with a key feature from Blood Orange for a soothing look at rich people problems. It’s nothing new, but it sounds damn good.
That goes for the guest features at large here – except for one. Everyone, for the most part, makes their case for existing with Tokyo – simple inclusions to his slightly-weirder-than-your-fave style of rap. Roy Woods and Tinashe similarly blend into to the thick fog of atmosphere that exists on their cuts “What’s Gwannin” and “Savannah Sunset” especially. Tinashe’s vocal in particular is like bathing in a sunrise waterfall in the dead of the jungle, surrounded by the kind of serenity that enables you to lay naked on the surrounding grass without fear of attack.
Surprisingly, the weakest of the bunch is Gunna. His feature on “Figure It Out” is weak, probably stemming from a forgettable song altogether, but his verse is glaring in how phoned in it sounds – like it was ripped straight from a throwaway song from Drip Harder. It’s time to have the conversation about Gunna’s ability to offer anything new than what we’ve already heard from him – something that MadeinTYO wisely skirts by trying new things on Sincerely, Tokyo. MadeinTYO’s latest album isn’t a knockout by any means, but it works in the second half when he leaves the moshpit wishes aside and decides to test the limits of his artistic repertoire. The same way he stumbled into gold with his first songs, he stumbles into it hear on slower, more atmospheric records. When he tries to force the message here, the immersion breaks, swiftly. Sincerely, Tokyo proves that there’s still plenty of kick left in MadeinTYO, even if he doesn’t quite understand what keeps people invested in his music. Sure, listeners are invested in the turn-up. But people invested in it as an entryway into his creative world. Now they want to see what else is there.