Serengeti’s first solo album for Anticon finds him upbeat, on point and full of swagger. The multifaceted Chicago emcee streamlines his approach for Family & Friends, taking a breather from the knotty, introspective raps of his recent past and making one of the most enjoyable, clear-headed records of his career. It’s a fresh look that features a couple of debuts as well. WHY? frontman Yoni Wolf is responsible for roughly half of the beats herein, while the rest come from by Advance Base, a.k.a. Owen Ashworth, officially marking the rebirth of the bedroom pop producer formerly known as Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Over their just-right mix of spare musicality and lo-fi propulsion, Serengeti splits the difference between humor and moodiness, maintaining loads of style throughout.
Family & Friends kicks off with “Tracks,” where, over Wolf’s picked guitar, plinked piano and sawed violin, Geti paints a vivid portrait of a man who’s got nothing left to lose. These parts are tracked live through the end of the song, not looped-a product of the week that the pair spent recording in Wolf’s Oakland apartment last summer. The latter lends his familiar croon to the hook, too, making a vocal return on the instant standout “Long Ears”-a low-riding slab of indie G-funk if there ever was one-and the more lush titular track.
Geti’s collaborations with Advance Base are peppered throughout, beginning with “PMDD,” a minimal pop tribute to a girl the rapper once saw in a pharmaceutical commercial. “Flutes” might be the duo’s masterwork. Oddly recalling ’90s one-hit wonders Primitive Radio Gods, the song is both springy and bluesy, a playful ode to associative storytelling. Australian sister singers Hazel and Martha Brown of Otouto guest on “Ha-Ha,” a fantasy rap about finding true love at a Chicago hardware chain. And “A.R.P.” follows with crystalline keys and verses about everything from DMT to Mr. T.
That overcoming and escapism are prominent here is hardly a surprise. Those two themes appear throughout Serengeti’s oeuvre, but Family & Friends embodies them best. The album offers an alternate take on the hefty concerns that come with the day-to-day, but most importantly-and all too often unlike its titular subjects-it’s damn well easy to love.