Maritime Rapper AJ Helado's 'Helado' Belies Its High-School Bedroom Origins
Published Mar 30, 2021Still in high school, 17-year-old rapper-producer AJ Helado recorded his sophomore album from his bedroom in Saint John's North End, not that you can hear it from the high quality of the recording. Helado is a well-produced trap record with melodic sensibility, as much about partying, cars and lust as it is a snapshot of a teenager navigating an era of rolling lockdowns.
Riding high off the Soundcloud successes of 2019's "I.T.B." and Helado lead single "Mango," the New Brunswick rapper's latest album is a record made for anyone who rolled joints on their high school math textbooks Friday night, and brushed the kief off Monday morning. Helado captures the hedonism and invincibility unique to adolescence, but with some childhood artifacts left in the mix. On "Matter of Time," Helado raps that he hopes he never dies and that he's driving with his eyes closed while also sliding in a reference to sour keys into the song's chorus: "if you find a key, watch the sweetness turn to sour." The vicarious thrill from teenage recklessness makes the album exciting, although at times, Helado's energy distracts from its subtle moments of sincerity.
Though sex is a recurring subject of the record, it's clear the pandemic has gotten in the way of Helado's love life. Referencing a hook up on "Tone it Down," he sings, "but I'm quarantined so don't touch me." Physical distancing has come with some added angst for Helado, but he's being cautious. Not following COVID guidelines is clearly a dealbreaker.
Helado's production quality belies its high-school bedroom origins. The beats are emotionally tuned and lay a solid base for Helado's smooth vocals and crooning harmonies, as on the track "Lavish," where each bar hits with youthful vigor. The AutoTune is tasteful and used for its musicality, not as a concealer — he doesn't need it to be. Melodic and melancholic with a healthy amount of confidence, Helado has created an environment that fits well both at the peak of the party and the reflective stumble home. (Independent)