In today’s music world where the reality of streaming services has pressured artists to constantly release new content to satisfy the appetite of hungry fans, taking even a few months between projects can be a career killer. Yet Miami-based rapper Serge’s two-year hiatus between his 2015 EP Return of the Rookie and 2017’s Rookie Season was not one of idleness but of preparation and tactfulness. In March, Reflection Music Group co-founders Doc Watson and Derek Minor launched RMG Amplify, a division which provides marketing support to established independent artists. Serge was the third artist to be signed and added to a roster that already included Konata Small and Reconcile.
While there is always a fear that an artist’s creativity can be stifled when he/she is placed under an entity, Serge’s disarming authenticity and knack for layering multiple different sounds all appear in Rookie Season in full force. Clocking in at just five tracks, Rookie Season is the shortest of Serge’s Rookie trilogy, but it is able to balance a many different sounds and streamline them to form a cohesive and poignant portrait of an emcee who wrestles with real issues yet also knows a real God.
Despite being a short listen, Rookie Season flows cinematically, with the bangers being frontloaded, the middle half being more honest and transparent, and the final track being jazzy and uplifting. Marshall Leroy produced the entirety of the EP alongside a few other key collaborators who helped with the transitions between songs.
“Swish” continues the theme of basketball-themed raps to come out of CHH, and this track is Serge’s manifesto as to where he’s been and who he is. Despite life’s challenges (“Lotta things didn’t go as planned so the new plan was just to improvise”), he remains committed to “get off the bench” and “take his shot”, knowing that he is backed up by a new team that supports him.
Confidence radiates throughout the track despite its darker synths and Serge dishes out mic-drop worthy punchlines in between a killer hook and pounding bass, spitting zingers like, “They make a list of they supermans but I could be at my Lois (lowest) and still make a Lane.” He is determined to “beat the Serge on the last record” and yet despite this serious resolve, he seemingly cracks a half-smile and encourages listeners to enjoy the EP for what it is (“Some music feel like a diet, mine is the day you could cheat”).
He really begins to channel this spirit of enjoyment through “Space Jam”, the standout track. Serge’s description of the track is “a heavy 808 knocking’ melodic banger! This record was meant to supplement any Djs playlist to get the crowd active!” says it all. It has a catchy hook, humorously memorable lines (“They say come at 6 / We pull up at nine, Haitian time”) and the enveloping bass will assuredly blow out the speakers to any car that plays it. While Serge may not be saying anything overtly spiritual on this track, this should not be a cause of concern. It is in songs like these where Serge is in his best musical and creative element as he subverts expectations of what a “typical” rap song does, and he allows the beat do most of the heavy lifting; he lightly sings and layers his vocals atop the smooth rhythm as opposed to trying to disrupt it with a fiery verse.
One of Rookie Season’s greatest strengths is the intimate connection Serge’s content has with the beat. He has the ability to take serious and weighty issues, and make them palatable to the listener, due to the catchiness of the track. On “Instagram” for example, Serge raps a harrowing story of a girl who starts to put more and more revealing photos of herself on social media in order to attract and gain more followers. As she slowly begins to degrade herself, the eerie percussion kicks in, showcasing the elevation of the stages and grave consequences of her actions. While it’s easy to get lost in such an addictive and head-bobbing cadence (indeed many similar sounding tracks have been used to glorify the horrific objectification described here) Serge’s convicting and cutthroat lyrics slice through and grip the listener’s conscience. This is most evident with lines like, “She could post it modest shawty flawless either way / You ain’t gotta put that body on display.”
Likewise, he continues this spirit of openness of his struggles with “Wavy Love.” The stirring funk tune speaks on the struggles with trying to remain pure and yet it has a surreal-dreamlike vibe which acts as a physical manifestation of the dangers of how hard it is to fight the “Elusive temptation / Tropic Ecstasy / Electric sensation” of sexual sin.
The EP’s closer “JTG” is dually inspiring and sobering. The hook, while simple, “Just trust God” reminds us that Christians often complicate what God has made simple; God’s ways do not have to make sense to us and may even seem crazy but we must still have faith. Serge reminisces on how when he thought financially he would be in a better place (“Ok I thought by 26, that I’d be balling / But life said just keep hoping and me I’ll just keep stalling”) but despite these setbacks, he turns not to himself but to God. The incorporation of live instruments, especially the saxophone, gives the track the perfect soulful vibe.
It is clear after listening to Rookie Season that Serge is anything but a novice when it comes to the rap game; his sonic diversity, vocal range, and cleverly adroit lyricism are all indicative of an emcee who is at the peak of his skillset. While compared to other projects, this EP lacks the same level of commitment to a single concept (mostly due in part to its short length), it is perhaps the best microcosm of Serge’s abilities and is an exciting teaser for his upcoming music.
As Serge closes out his Rookie trilogy, with this EP, he hammers in a key message across all three projects: at the heart of being a “rookie” is a sense of humility. Serge stated that, “ I adopted the mindset, being lowly in heart, someone who hasn’t arrived…I want to grind like I’m still a rookie, always learning new things and growing.” Serge reminds listeners that all of us, no matter where we are in life, should strive to be a rookie in all seasons of our lives; that in every trial one faces, be it selfish pride to outdo others or sexual temptation, that it is in our “head coach”, God, where we can learn humility and transform into the person He wants us to be.