The Bul Bey tests his limitations, and passes, on new self-titled EP - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
The Bul Bey | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman |

It’s amazing how much territory Philly rapper The Bul Bey can cover in a 21-minute EP…or a five-minute song, for that matter.

Give a listen to “Top Ramen,” the opening of his new, self-titled EP which hit streaming services earlier this month. The joint begins with Bey in braggadocio mode, spitting lyrics about being “better than everybody else in [his] profession,” quickly moves on to vignettes of police violence against black civilians, and ends with the beautiful image of “dancing in the rain, listening to John Coltrane” as soul arrangements and life-affirming horns fill the air.

“800 Number” is equally jam-packed with lyrical content. Over a clubby pop beat, Bey pontificates about the grind, making it music, pushing oneself to achieve one’s goals and being “not sure if it was the lyrics or the powerful rhythms” that got people’s attention thus far. This industry insider section has one of my favorite barbs on the set, with Bey claiming his credentials as a DIY artist in hip-hop: “I can’t explain / I don’t have a PR staff or management team / or a legendary rapper cosigning my name.” But as the song builds into speedy footwork rhythms, the focus shifts away from indulging in personal success and turns to activism, and pushing for social justice.

As much lyrical dexterity and diversity as we hear in the mix here, so too is the set a rich sonic palette. The beats Bey raps over sound very unique to him — there’s little in the way of modern trap generica, there’s little in the way of equally cookie-cutter classic boom-bap. “Deep Down In My Heart” is essentially a rock band jam, with Anthony DeCarlo of Ill Doots playing us out on a searing solo as Bey rhymes about struggling with demons and vices. “WTH” meditates on negativity (“I’m from the city of pessimism”) over downbeat, smooth, and vaguely jazzy R&B arrangements in the vein of Anderson .Paak; with Bey’s flow taking on a Saba-esque cadence, this cut embodies two of contemporary hip-hop’s leading lights.

And on “One Of One,” a song that stood out to our Lissa Alicia when she attended a sneak preview listening party of the EP in progress earlier this year, a descending progression of minor key piano chords suggest trap, but a speedy marching snare drum takes it firmly into Diplo-esque moombahton territory. Lyrically, this one focuses on self-care and seizing the moment — “Take time, take care of yourself / cause it don’t take long to live” — and back at that listening party, Bey referred to it as “mantra music.”

It works in that regard, and it also works as a snapshot of an artist who wants to challenge themself in the most holistic way possible. Bey is doing that on his latest EP, and succeeding, giving voice to a variety of perspectives, incorporating a spectrum of styles and sounds, and doing it with remarkable cohesion.

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