As I began my first listen of Gemini Rights, I remember seeing Steve Lacy at Lovebox in 2018, the same year as Childish Gambino’s headlining set; Lacy performed alongside Kali Uchis, and The Internet, and we even got to see him perform Dark Red which made for one of the most memorable sets of the day in the blistering heat. Now, four years later, as the UK experiences its hottest temperatures ever recorded, Steve Lacy prepares us for the heatwave with a wonderfully sunny LP; he couldn’t have chosen a better time to release Gemini Rights. This album finally sees Lacy tapping the potential he teased us with on his demo tape five years ago. Unfortunately, in 2019, his debut album came and went, not quite being the smash hit it was destined to be. Thankfully with this one, he’s gone above and beyond, diving into psychedelic soul, and embracing Brazilian influences, whilst giving us what we’ve been fiending after.
Since surprisingly bursting onto the scene at 18, with his solo Steve Lacy's Demo EP, everyone wanted to know more about the mysterious, relatively unknown member of the Californian Odd Future neo-soul outfit, The Internet (performing alongside the talented Syd, Patrick Paige II, Christopher Smith, and Matt Martians). He contributes to some of the Grammy-nominated band's best songs with his signature jangly guitar riffs and vibrant funk rhythms, which is especially impressive as he joined the band at the age of 15. On their last album, Hive Mind, he’s given even more of the spotlight, making it a very fun listen.
The Compton singer's debut EP already feels nostalgic. It has the essence of an unfinished demo with its raw, and unpolished short songs and ideas. However, it stood out as one of the year's best EPs, with 6 songs masterfully made by plugging his guitar and microphone into an iPhone and completing the songs on GarageBand.
It definitely wasn’t enough to tide us over, which made his long-awaited debut album more of a let-down. His first LP clocked in at three times the length of his demos and dragged with unnecessarily lengthy songs. Since we were used to helpings of Steve Lacy in mostly 2-minute portions, the album was surprisingly very over ambitious of him, considering how half-baked most of the ideas were. The LP isn’t void of good songs - Hate CD, and N Side are pretty good, but even they feel underwritten or underproduced at times. He seems to be always operating at 50% on the album and doing the bare minimum if that, barely flexing his vocal talent or production skills, which isn’t the level of creativity and drive you want when going into a debut record. I must admit I was initially blinded by the hype, but since relistening today, and a few other times over the years, not much has really had a lasting impact on me.
In 2020, I was excited to learn that Steve Lacy was coming out with another helping of demos called The Lo-Fis, hoping it might just re-capture the magic of his original demos. Despite a few highlights including Uuuu, 4real, and Infrunami (which has since blown up a fair bit), it wasn’t nearly as impressive or striking as the 2017 EP, just merely a collection of motifs, leaks and Soundcloud tracks he made in high school, released to tide people over.
He has managed to keep his momentum going through songs like Ryd, and especially Dark Red continuing to grow in popularity, with the latter even blowing up on TikTok, inspiring countless remixes. Of course, his growth in popularity can also be somewhat credited to Tyler, The Creator’s co-signs, and features on the beloved Flower Boy, and his contribution to Kali Uchis’ fantastic Isolation record, as well as Blood Orange’s Negro Swan.
When he’s not modelling or starring on the front of every other magazine, he’s even attracting the attention of Kendrick Lamar, who utilised that same signature Steve Lacy sound for PRIDE – by far one of the best tracks on that record. He’s been relatively quiet these past few years, apart from his work with the excellent Ravyn Lenae on her fantastic Crush EP, and Hypnos album from this year… He’s also worked on Denzel Curry’s Imperial, Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride, GoldLink’s At What Cost, Love Regenerator’s summer-ready single Live Without Your Love, and Thundercat’s It Is What It Is to add to his list of acclaimed credits.
So, it’s safe to say most people haven’t written off Steve Lacy after a mediocre and disappointing debut album. Gemini Rights sees him returning to his more lo-fi sound, but also embracing a lot of the synth and jazz-funk aspects from his first album. It sounds like it’s been years in the making, and I’m thrilled it's finally here…
The album opens with Static, immediately hitting us with lyrics like “sniffing that K, did you fill the hole?”. It feels like a bitter track about being hurt by an ex-lover - “looking for a bitch cause I’m over boys, would you be my girlfriend baby”. It’s quite the intro, and packs a lot of charm into it, with Lacy coughing as an adlib. The track cuts abruptly before more texture floats behind the production; it feels stripped back and minimal but already feels like a major improvement on the song-writing front. He even allows the instrumental room to breathe for the last 45 seconds, easing us into the album, it’s quite a beautiful start to the LP, and a promising one for sure.
Helmet, the second track is bouncy, with a vintage funk flair. It sounds like driving down the coast in an RV with the windows down. There’s already a lot more definition to his vocals, and once again he lets the lush instruments breathe alongside gorgeous background vocals of “la la la la” in the outro.
Mercury, the first single in the lead-up to this new LP, defines all that is right about this sound and direction from Steve Lacy - from the Brazilian Tropicalia and samba flavours, to the fluttering, expressive background vocals. The track starts with the clicking sound of a pressing play, likely on a tape cassette, before kicking off into the rumbling bass and acoustic guitar, complimented texturally by rumba shakers, trumpet, and congas. The bleak lyrics but lively, rhythmic tune make for an interesting contrast, as does Lacy’s autocrooning over the beat. Every aspect seems to be carefully thought out unlike his at times amateur-sounding last record. It’s a fantastic first single and sounds even better alongside these other tracks. It certainly built a lot of buzz for this record for me, and brought people's eyes back on Steve Lacy.
Buttons, another highlight with a slow bassline and thick drums sees synths building around Steve’s cries of “I will never not love you”. As the track builds, we hear crunchy electronic guitar and fuzzy bass, giving the track a warm, 70s feel. After Buttons, we get into Bad Habit, the second single for the album, which has that classic Dark Red era Lacy feel to it. This time around, the vocal style he’s adopted is a little more adventurous. It’s a perfect example of what Lacy always had in him, and it’s exciting to watch him grow into his own as an artist. The tonal switch in the second half is a nice touch too, with Lacy interestingly opting for the colliding sounds of beatboxing and a ukulele.
Whilst 2Gether Interlude is a nice transitional song with a slow jazzier stride. The following Cody Freestyle, which is by no means bad, is also very spacious and stripped back. These two tracks do break up the flow of the album a little but that’s not to say that they don't have positives, like their tongue-in-cheek lyrics and Baby Keem-esque rap flows. Cody Frestyle ends with a nice crescendo of warm synths, which helps to bring the album's momentum back into full swing again.
The last three tracks bring the album to a stunning close. Amber kicks off sounding like a dusty, old Buena Vista Social Club track, until Lacy starts crooning over the top. The Cuban jazz-influenced track is fantastic, and with its wailing guitar and showy falsetto, sounds like daydreaming about someone you love. Steve Lacy is great at showing off his vocal range on this album, with simplistic but certainly effective songwriting.
Sunshine is the last of the three singles released prior, and as the title suggests, it’s one of the sunniest, stickiest tracks on the album, with a great feature from Foushee. The track ends with some Funkadelic Maggot Brain-esque pitchy guitar, as the track drifts off into a hypnagogic dream state with sounds of birds tweeting. It sounds like opening your eyes after the perfect sleep, to the sun on your face and the sounds of the outside world gently waking you up.
The album wraps up with the stylish Give You the World, a very fitting closer with a funk-soaked bassline that sounds straight off of Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love or Thundercat’s Drunk. Its confessional lyrics bring everything full circle, after the bitterness we heard at the start, now favouring acceptance, and moving on. It’s a wonderful outro and ties the bow neatly on what’s surely one of this year’s best.
At just 10 tracks, and 35 minutes, this album flew by, and whilst I wish there was a little more to bite into, this album left little room for improvement, and wasted barely any time. It feels like it draws from many of the same artists' albums that he contributed to – from Thundercat, to Tyler, The Creator, and Blood Orange, with their dreamy, warm, and sometimes seductive, funk-influenced vibrations.
It truly would have been a big loss for music if Steve Lacy peaked with his demo tape, but whilst his first album showed hints of what he could achieve, this album took leaps instead of steps. Lacy puts his own spin on the countless influences here, making it his own, colliding sounds of indie hypnagogic pop with 70s flavoured funk and R&B in a way which almost seemed unimaginable on his debut record. To sum this new record up nicely, Steve Lacy took to Instagram to say ‘GEMINI RIGHTS IS OUT PLS KISS TO IT’. It’s truly an impressive display of depth and talent, whilst still seeming effortlessly nonchalant and stylish, and finding his sound in the process.