Rappers tend to fall into a Venn diagram of delivery styles and backing beats. Every once in a while, you get an artist who reaches beyond the circle and digs their claws into the outer space, curious to hear how far they can blur the line between hip-hop, beats, and R&B grooves. The latest to do so is one of Boston’s own, and he plans on dragging every listener into the unfamiliar territory with him.
Meet Haasan Barclay, the Boston-bred artist who’s been quietly making a name for himself for the last few years. Originally from Boston, the 26-year-old spent his youth bouncing between neighborhoods, moving from Tremont Street to Mattapan to Hyde Park to Grove Hall. At age 13, he was gifted a thrift shop guitar by his father. With the radio dial set to the now-defunct rock station WFNX, he began playing along with the songs, learning how to mimic what he heard. Soon after, he fell into music making at large… and he couldn’t stop. Barclay learned how to create beats on his cousin’s Fruity Loops production software, then drums, and bass, and then keys. He was a natural-born musician, and he learned how to swing from one instrument to the next with a heart-eyed fever.
By the time he reached age 22, he was comfortable behind a board. Barclay rubbed elbows with some of Boston’s rising rappers like Michael Christmas and OG Swaggerdick. So he did what any savvy multitalented musician would: offer himself up as a producer and get to work making hip-hop beats. “It was a good way for me to channel all of my energy into something positive,” he says. “I was a young kid, and I was bored. It came naturally.”
Last year, Barclay released his debut album, Heaven Is Your Last Dream, and set the tone for what people should expect. It was a surreal blend of local rapper cameos, dreamy synths, and liquid bass, swirling into a sound no one had quite heard before. Naturally, it gained attention in underground crowds, including praise on DigBoston’s own “Best Local Albums of 2016” list. But in his eyes, it felt like he had plenty to learn. Barclay wanted to keep pushing the boundaries, and now, it seems, he’s found out how to.
Today, Haasan Barclay is releasing his newest mixtape, 800 Fantasy Lane, through our website. It should come as no surprise that he performed the drums, guitar, bass, keys, synth, and vocals himself. He recorded it himself. He mixed and mastered it himself. The four-song EP is a tour de force on par with his last release, but it also sees him learning from that last record. Heaven gots darker as the album progresses. 800 Fantasy Lane aims to maintain a mood.
In fact, it’s best to describe his music as exactly that: an emotion, not a genre. Barclay presents the odd sadness of nostalgia, a contented happiness, and what it feels like to change hometowns time and time again on 800 Fantasy Lane. It’s a multifaceted emotion that he struggles to explain, but it’s a fitting struggle. After all, that’s why the EP exists: to convey what’s best described through sound.
“I think about emotions a lot, but particularly nostalgia. Even in terms of the sounds I aim to use, it’s all geared through nostalgia,” he explains. “I filter it through myself to deliver it to people in a new way. I want to learn how to accept it, and I want listeners to, too.”
There’s no better way to do that than by repurposing old songs that never quite found a home. Just look at opener “Wet Dream.” What begins with a few solitary guitar strums that hang in the air quickly parts to welcome a groove-tilting bassline and percussive-dusted drumming that comes near to a few alt-rock breakdowns. It feels like a mature romp that’s both breezy in verses and heady in choruses. According to Barclay, the lyrics are nearly a decade old, but upon revisiting notes, he found a way to update them for his current self.
“I’ve been trying to look at myself with an outsider’s perspective,” he says. “I’ll look back at lyrics I wrote years ago and try to see it from a new perception and see how I can learn from it. I could use that to see how to warp a guitar differently than I planned to. There’s so many ways you can tackle a song, like it could have the same skeleton but you put a whole different body on it, and I pushed myself to try to do that.”
If he bent himself any farther, Barclay may have broken his spine while making 800 Fantasy Lane. It’s trippy but still R&B, quick moving but laid back, tropical but clearly city minded. Perhaps that’s what you get when a musician dares to break the mold and let emotions, not genre rules, dictate how he plays the game. It’s a magical mystery contour that’s a few hues brighter than anything you’ve seen before. And yet despite that, we’ve got a feeling that Haasan Barclay will only get all the more psychedelic in years to come.
Stream 800 Fantasy Lane, Barclay’s newest mixtape, in full below.