Photo: Jonathan Chou
Florida-based rapper Chester Watson has been releasing music since the age of 17, but it was the 2016 album Past Cloaks that left a lasting impression on the underground rap scene at large. The sprawling 19-song collection of sample-heavy lo-fi hip-hop felt like not only a homage to the likes of MF DOOM and Madlib but the introduction of a new voice in the world of hip-hop. Some two odd years later, Watson is back to return to return on that early showing of promise.
Project 0 marks a noted next step forward for the Florida rapper. In many ways, its title feels true life for a number of reasons. Most of Watson’s earliest works comprised of expansive compilations of late ‘90s and early ‘00s inspired hip-hop that ran the gamut of up to 28-song collections. In comparison, Project 0 stands at a succinct ten songs. Over the course of the last two years, the artist has developed a laser-like focus, refining his best intuitions into a singular, brilliant showing of lo-fi hip-hop.
More than just a crystallization of what Watson was already doing best, Project 0 showcases a wealth of new influence for the young rapper. In lieu of a deluge of samples, one will find vast moments of space-age jazz production. It’s a direction that makes the album feel expansive, despite its shortened track run. Watson has matured in other ways beyond a changing in his sonic background, although the atmospheric, R&B opening track “Lost Inside” is certainly of note.
On its standout track and the previously released single, “40 Acres,” Watson alludes to failed political promises in the same breath as references to Wu-Tang and the Marvel super-villain Galactus. It’s an all-encompassing moment that demonstrates Watson’s continued growth, as well as why heft left such a strong impression in the first place. Simply put, Watson makes rap feel fun again, championing moments of superb lyricism and niche references, while at the time we can see the earliest moments of a voice that carries a weight beyond its cult knowledge and impeccable flow.
Listen to Project 0 below: