Nearly 15 months have passed since Simon Dominic released DARKROOM: Roomates Only. A dark, conceptual EP, it was one that showed the 35-year-old at his honest best; revealing the inner-workings of his complex mind through candid lyrics and carefully constructed instrumentation. There’s no denying that it was a side to the rapper fans didn’t expect to see, but one that felt welcomed, and made for a compelling musical switch.

But, as time has passed and Dominic’s mental health has thankfully improved vastly, it’s time for another commercially-orientated release. Back with a new EP, No Open Flames, the former AOMG CEO is ready to prove that he still has the power to take the charts by storm, and attempt to show that he hasn’t missed a beat.

After starting with a standard introduction – a short instrumental burst full of disc scratches, background vocals and a simple melody, the EP launches straight into the previously released “DAx4.” A hook-driven track that chooses a repetitive-but-catchy chorus as its selling point, it’s nothing overly original, but does allow for Dominic to show off his impressive flow, and has a good enough beat so that there’s a real sense of accessibility and replay value. Lyrically it feels fresh, and humorous in places (much like some of 2011’s snl League Begins record) which adds to the flavour and enjoyment of the track. Overall, It’s solid, but nothing special.

“GOTT” is similar, with a simple enough melody meaning that Simon Dominic’s verses come through to the listener unobstructed, and the flow can remain tight. Woo, one of three features, really shines here, though, with his deep, slightly mumbled rap feeling custom-made for the beat and really adding a much needed layer. Again, it’s an undeniably interesting, good track, but still lacks that extra bit of punch that SimonD usually packs.

Following on is “Make Her Dance,” another of the singles released prior to this EP’s release. The tropical sounding beat and overall melody courtesy of GooseBumps – the producer for all of this release – is phenomenal, but that’s almost where it stops. It’s a typical sexualised song with ad-libs galore and another catchy chorus, but it ultimately falls flat. Loopy sounds muddy in his verse, and Crush replicates his flow from the remix of Jay Park’s “MOMMAE.” Other than the intriguing line of “My third leg’s on the rise,” there really isn’t anything to write home about here. it’s simply forgettable hip-hop.

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“POSE!” is the real low-point, however. A track thick with bass, but a track that presents a beat that is way too minimalist to sink your teeth into, and has a chorus so disjointed it’s almost unbearable at times. Headache-inducing is a harsh term to use, but it really isn’t the standard you’d expect from the 35-year-old established rapper. Complete with a YUMDDA feature that surprisingly isn’t even his worst delivered verse, this just isn’t a song you’ll be itching to press the replay button on.

 

Fortunately, “room type” does offer some salvation. A meticulous piano melody, perfectly subtle trap instrumentation, and unrivalled flow; it’s an unbelievable cocktail that ultimately creates a captivating track. The only complaint can be that it’s too short, with the actual rapping clocking in at around 1:37 before the fantastic string-section outro. With that being said, it remains a confident, original song that stands head and shoulders above everything preceding.

And to finish comes “ya aint gang.” The chorus is full of bite, with Simon Dominic practically sneering that “Ya ain’t gang,” and the verses are filled with venomous delivery that is invigorating to listen to. It’s a good way to finish the EP, and is a song that has plenty of plus points. The bell sounds in the instrumentation help add a classy touch, the features actually fit with the melody, and in a general sense, the song helps save an EP that otherwise would have been forgettable.

In conclusion, No Open Flames is a hit-and-miss release, providing peaks and troughs aplenty in just seven short tracks. “room type” and “ya aint gang” offer the most originality and listener satisfaction, with other offerings like “POSE!” being instantly skippable. It’s a step-down from previous work, but something that is at least refreshing to hear, and allows a look towards the direction Simon Dominic is happy to take is music in. Let’s just hope whatever comes next builds on the positives, and rids itself of the negatives.

Rating – 6.5/10

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