- Write Hooked, Crowd Pleaser
Write Hooked are an East Coast collective of four multitalented artists, two of whom call Vermont home. The crew's beating heart is Chris Ellis, aka Slim Tofer, Write Hooked's in-house recording and mixing engineer, as well as a solid presence in the vocal booth. Then there's Darren Gardner, aka Essex rapper-singer Highh Def. In a Seven Days review of his 2021 debut LP, Darren to Be Different, I called that project "unabashedly pop." His posse's first album leans even further into that aesthetic.
Crowd Pleaser is an aggressive, auto-tune-optimized pop product that wouldn't be out of place in any club or hip clothing store in the country right now. Such fare usually evokes a powerful fight-or-flight response in me, yet I found myself charmed by the record. Mostly.
When talented, charismatic rappers bring their crew into the studio for a project, results can fall flat. I assumed that Highh Def would outshine his friends, but I was dead wrong. That's largely thanks to the pipes of singer-rapper Patty the Pulse, who handles the majority of the hooks with a persuasive inner fire. Rounding out the team is DJ Koolin, who delivers brash but calculated verses.
For the production, Write Hooked made a smart call reaching out to hired guns to give them the bespoke sounds they needed. Crowd Pleaser is impressively versatile, with every flavor carefully rendered. The crew also has a strong collective ear for arrangements. These songs are full of melodic ideas but flow naturally, never growing monotonous.
Compliments aside, the album is a portrait of a team at an important crossroads. Write Hooked are most compelling when they're at their most personal, revealing idiosyncrasies and anxieties. Album opener "Elevate" is aspiration rap by numbers; album closer "Take You Home" is a hookup anthem that any college dude in America could have written. In between are six songs that shine because the artists are having fun and being themselves.
Stylistically, the album covers a ton of ground. "Step x Step" is a bright, pop-punk anthem that flows into "Impulse," a trap-flavored R&B ballad. "Miami" is the biggest surprise on the album, a perfect slice of '80s synth-pop with a soaring chorus. "Where My Cake I Ate?" is a blast of outright emo rock. "Cruel World" is perhaps the best track, a mournful, catchy heartbreaker that's hard to classify.
All in all, Write Hooked are an eminently compatible crew of complementary styles. They are lucky to have a sonic wizard as competent and creative as Slim Tofer, too. Throughout, the mixes are clean and clear but still nothing short of thumping. Write Hooked's ambitions never exceed their grasp.
That's ultimately why Crowd Pleaser is impossible to hate, even for an old curmudgeon like me. A great hook is beyond critique. Turn it up.
Crowd Pleaser will be released on August 12 and available on all major streaming platforms.