Music review: FOIL is a curious & strange mixtape to bop to on a lazy quarantined afternoon

Genre: Hip Hop/RnB/Pop
Best tracks: Cherry Chapstick, saturn emoji, F.R.A.
Worst tracks: REI AMI, do it right

FOIL is a mostly half-hearted attempt to make a proper debut mixtape for the rising American rapper/singer Rei Ami. The production is often messy and all over the place in songs like ‘That’s On You’, while songs like ‘do it right’ sound bland and sleep-inducing.

The mixtape begins with introductory audio of sorts named ‘reivelations’, which doesn’t do much to raise up the hype for the newcomer, it rather feels like a disposable and forgettable filler. The pun in the title is creative though.

‘Cherry Chapstick’ is a collaboration between Rei and Lolo Zouaï which arguably works better with some groovy chord progressions and fun beats. However, for a rapper claiming on her live to have to eviscerate and castrating verses, the lyrics in all these songs are rather uncreative and tame with very kindergarten-level insults and no complex wordplay. There is also a recurring form of delivery by the Maryland native where her rapping sounds closed off, hushed and almost high-pitched. It is probably an attempt to play the role of the cute-but-hot, sweet-and-spicy, unfriendly hottie and catty girl archetype. But it fails miserably as her voice sounds frustratingly constipated and infertile, coming off more as an amateur Doja Cat/K-pop girl group knock off.

Not that any of this is a negative for Rei’s dedicated fanbase. Calling themselves Reibies (meaning Rei Ami’s babies), these loyal fans have been garnered by the artist over a year of closely interacting with them on the official Rei Ami discord server, Instagram and Q/A interactions on YouTube. This is smart strategy by the singer-rapper as this means her mediocre mixtape will be well-accepted by an enthusiastic and mostly young fan base who love her for her personality rather than any specific artistry, and who would support her every creative project.

‘That’s On You’ is multi-layered track that may prove to be a litmus test for newer Rei Ami fans. The first half of it has drums and cheering voice effects. Rei’s ferocity shines through as she raps about staying true to herself however much it bothers others. This fieriness is interrupted midway when the beat switches and the song slows down. We then hear her sing more somberly like a lovelorn young woman who feels neglected by her emotionally distant partner.

The mixtape is stronger in its moments of bold, sassy songs such as ‘F.R.A.’ which grew on me over time. The production here is also a bit messy with a mix of acoustic strings, bass and trap beats. But the mixing here works better.

‘Do it right’, which features fellow American rapper Aminé, is a low-fi love song with minimalist acoustic strings and bass. Despite the potential of the duo, it lacks the chemistry between him and Rei. Aminé had more crackling chemistry with Rico Nasty on their song ‘Back & Forth’ last year. It is also a tamer, quieter song.

Beat switching is a very characteristic trait of Rei Ami, and is often meant to highlight her personality of duality. It’s her way of saying that she can go from being merciless on the mic and delivering brutal bars, to singing softly about feeling lost, vulnerable and helpless, playing into her Gemini zodiac sign of duality and opposites. This switching up of songs is an interesting gimmick that may work on some listeners but not for others who might find it tonally jarring and uncalled for. Another divisive factor in this mixtape is the rather short length of the tracks, with the entire mixtape finishing under 23 minutes.

In the end, FOIL is a curious and strange mixtape to bop to on a lazy quarantined afternoon. In a way, it has classic Rei Ami traits and will prove to be a litmus test that splits Rei’s admirers from her dissenters. It’s a love it or hate it situation. The amateurishness of this project is very common for a new-coming indie artist working with other equally young and independent producers. For all its shortcomings, FOIL surely succeeds in showcasing Rei Ami’s playfully fierce but sometimes vulnerable personality. It will be exciting to see which creative direction the artist goes from here.

FOIL can be streamed on Youtube Music and Spotify.

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