Overall Rating: 9.2/10
Ronnie Rage, a Chicago-based rapper, has been expanding his aura and musical range track-by-track since the release of his hit single "IDK" four years ago. The inherently limiting noun "rapper" is no longer an adequate definition for this genre-defying artist. Middle of the Night is entirely written, produced, mixed and mastered by the all-around talent who's eliminated the all-encompassing umbrella of labels one track at a time. Sitting at only five tracks and 13-minutes, the album serves its listeners as more of a memorable moment than a project forcing itself down their throats.
Rage has revolutionized his musical presence by providing a soundtrack for all of the insomniacs who attempt to cure their illnesses with dreams of a better location—whether that be time, place, or feeling.
When I was first introduced to Ronnie Rage, I grew infatuated rather quickly with his pure versatility that I continue to search for in so many artists. But above all else, I couldn't help but be impressed with his sheer lyrical talent. His cleverness is always on display through purposeful rhymes, cadences and patterns that dive below the surface of a pool that is littered at the top by incoherent mumbling from modern trap artists.
There isn't a skippable song on the carefully curated Middle of the Night—Rage's first project since his 2018 debut, Left Alone—an album that has consumed a majority of my own personal playlists for two years. While Left Alone is filled to the brim with infinitely listenable tracks, it lacks a certain level of tone necessary to compose an album and its inherent "vibe," for lack of a better term.
Middle of the Night doesn't suffer from that lack of cohesion whatsoever. Each track flows seamlessly into the next as if the album was one long dream that you were stuck in. It's with this album that we, the listeners, are allowed a glimpse into Rage's psyche—a sonic execution of not only who he is now, but whom he aches to become.
The album's prologue "Searching For My Soul" is just that—a prologue. Much like how all introductions should be, it serves as a first chapter. The tone-setter doesn't exceed one minute in length, coming in at only 57-seconds total. Although I wish it was longer, the message remains clear:
"Searching for my soul, but it's not where I left it / Feeling like I've been here before / In a world full of damage / One day I'll be strong / And learn how to face my fears / One day I'll go where I belong / Cause I know it can't be here," Rage proclaims. He feels stuck, yet determined and positive that there's progression beaming out of him one dream at a time.
If "Middle of the Night" isn't the album's standout song (which it very well may be), then "Limelight" has to be the one. A bright and bouncy synth-heavy instrumental is supported by a rare moment of Rage putting his real-life-rapper-voice over the acid-laced beat. And just when you think it's going to be a typical hip-hop track, Rage flips the script with a remedy of hypnotic coos and rides the remedial essence into an effervescent, yet melancholic wave.
While its predecessors are mindful blends of reality and fantasy, "3AM (Maya's Interlude)" is the album's diary entry drunkenly written in cursive with a purple sharpie. Rage puts a bevy of contradicting emotions on display, bouncing back and forth between overwhelming confidence in one moment and inescapable insecurity in the next. If this is an "Interlude," then consider me itching for an album full of tracks that are typically included as fill-ins.
"Is it really or love? Or is it just lust? It don't really matter to me," Rage raps on the first verse of the album's bookend, "Love or Lust." Rage doesn't attempt to tackle a universal question that has been begged for eons. Instead, he accepts the reality of his situation with a potential lover and allows the chemistry to speak for itself if it's loud enough. Luckily for the album, the track provides a perfect eclipse on Middle of the Night's statement.
Middle of the Night is intrinsically charming and bewildering; it's a whirlwind of emotions that would often refuse to be bottled into a 5-track project. Rage captures what it's like to be suffering from the stagnancy that we often experience as modern human beings, but has the soulful turn radius to provide musical ecstasy on the same project without drastic lane-switching. The lines are constantly blurred, like looking through a kaleidoscope 45-minutes after eating a half-bag of mushrooms. Although it's only January, Middle of the Night has cemented itself as an Album of the Year candidate because of its precise execution, jaw-dropping range of emotions and visionary clarity from beginning to end.