“HaHa,” the title of the new mixtape by student rapper Jake Backer ’14 and producer Mad Dangerous (alum Will Hutchinson ’12), leaves some room for interpretation. Are they laughing with us, laughing at us, or just because they have, in Backer’s words, packed “more bowls than a damn soup kitchen?” The answer turns out to be a bit of each, but a little too much of some.
“HaHa” kicks off with a raucous Jackson 5 sample that announces the tape’s primary concern: good times. That first track, “Oh Baby,” is agreeably infectious, combining a slice of “One More Chance” with an energetic performance from Backer. The rapper’s verses stretch with the beat and feel both tight and natural; Backer’s flow and agility within the confines of Hutchinson’s production are remarkable features of both the song and the tape as a whole. The song’s highlight is Backer’s warning to those who might seek to challenge him: “Not gonna happen, like a fat chick tryin’ to win in gymnastics/ or a Chihuahua eating a mastiff/ Baby I’m a star or at least an asterisk.”
“HaHa,” the mix’s title track, is a similarly enjoyable ride. Dangerous’ angular loops make it one of the tape’s catchiest tracks and easily the most club-ready.
Mad Dangerous’ beat-making is the driving force behind the tape. Most beats on the album are memorable, and some specific examples nicely highlight Dangerous’ pure production ability. “Wouldn’t That Be Nice” features a striking hook sung by Kadia Anderson and manipulated by Dangerous, who turns it into the song’s arresting centerpiece. The clarity of the samples and instrumentation is an achievement — even layered tracks like “Oh Baby” feel crisp and open. Each component of Dangerous’ beats stands on its own; despite their complexity, none of the tape’s beats feels cluttered. “Mr. Superstition” strikes gold in its sampling of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” but that iconic keyboard line is cut too short, frustrating an otherwise excellent track.
Dangerous’ big beats work well with Backer’s agile rapping, but Backer’s lyricism, along with the tape overall, suffers from imagination stretched too thin. Each song is an exercise in chest-bumping and braggadocio; you wish Backer would bring something more to the table, as he obviously could. Weed and gin and tonics make too many appearances, and as much fun as Backer’s description of getting the “zoots” is, it gets a little old. He clings to some lyrical motifs as well, an avoidable trap. Even Dangerous’ sparkling production endures redundancy, formulaic at times in its use of vocal hooks and thumping low-end. The tape’s eight tracks might have been better served cut down to five.
That said, “HaHa” achieves its goal. It’s a good time, and to any who take issue, one can imagine Backer’s response: “Fuck that noise/ I’ll chill with my boys and get real high.”