Reason: Porches

If Reason’s inherited anything from his erstwhile TDE labelmate Kendrick Lamar, it’s a bone-deep exhaustion. Across good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar’s weariness underscored his subjects’ dim horizons: bright-eyed boys lapsing into sullen machismo, the insidious catch-22s facing Black men in American cities. On his second album, Porches, Reason forgoes the assiduous context of Lamar’s opuses, stitching familiar themes and settings into an impressionistic patchwork. In bypassing conventional setups and origin stories, Reason attempts a more diaristic urgency, but the abridged framework also dulls the record’s emotional reveals.

Porches’ weightiest monologues cluster together, concentrating their idiosyncrasies. “Call Me!” is a cogent, kinetic meditation on envy, an accomplished vocal performance in spite of clunky exposition (“Niggas look at me like I’m a dream, that’s only because I reached this/Fictitious place that people call success, and now they need it”). An interlude links the song to “Gang Shit!,” which volleys between first- and second-person perspectives to dramatize the divergence of childhood peers. The immediacy is reminiscent of Lamar’s proven tactics, but Reason is overreliant on jump-cuts; it’s like listening in on a phone conversation halfway through.

Though the dense songwriting rewards repeat listens, Porches is clouded by atmospheric window-dressing: raspy admonishments from neighborhood elders, voicemails from hectoring girlfriends, squabbles over territory and perceived slights. These tropes would be haphazard if they weren’t the sort of thing that appeared on Kendrick and YG albums a decade ago (not to mention Xzibit and Jayo Felony albums 15 years before that). Even the album’s overarching concept—a liminal-space metaphor positing the front porch as a portal between the streets and interior life—feels like a stilted take on “Swimming Pools” and “Money Trees.” It’s gesturing at something it’s not, suggesting discomfort with the record’s modest competence.

“A Broken Winter Break!” is the early standout, a gnarled slice of West Coast funk that wouldn’t be out of place on a Schoolboy Q or ICECOLDBISHOP project; “Send You 2 the Afterlife!” is a fluid drive-by narrative heightened by fantastic production and vocal engineering. From there, the album shifts to a half-hour of somber keys and treacly chipmunk soul, songs burdened with labored similes (“I’ve gotta cover home like umpires”) and finger-wagging platitudes (“That’s the fucking problem with our people/Sometimes we don’t dream enough”) befitting a LinkedIn post. Porches spotlights Reason’s nimble delivery across a breadth of knotty, lopsided rhyme patterns, but rather than showcase his versatility, the survey course renders him chameleonic.

It’s worth revisiting There You Have It, the 2017 mixtape that attracted Top Dawg’s interest in the first place. Assembled with YouTube-sourced beats, it’s deeply felt if not quite profound; the label’s resources might’ve secured producer placements and sharpened Reason’s vision. There is, needless to say, a Kendrick-shaped hole in the TDE lineup. But on Porches, Reason raps like the daylight’s behind him, falling prey to the narrative inversion that plagues so many of J. Cole’s disciples—the supposition that a label’s investment ensures artistic triumph. A record deal is surely a climactic event, but to the audience, it’s an offscreen prelude. The action belongs between the opening and closing credits.