Ben Shorr

Ben Shorr

Portland rapper Ben Shorr is no stranger to head-knocking, boast-laden street music. One of the strongest tracks on his impressive second album is called “The Bad Guy” – a classic bit of rap villain roleplaying where our antihero yells “bomb” on a plane and takes a chainsaw to a Twitter troll. But where most rappers would be letting their id completely take over, Shorr swerves a bit. Toward the end of the song, he gets surprisingly personal: “You been telling me for my whole life that I’m a piece of shit / But I’m supposed to fuckin’ fall down because of that?” It’s a telling moment from an artist whose comfort with emoting helps him be a better storyteller. Musically, Pyrokinesis is New York summer hip hop, all crackling soul loops, optimistic piano licks and snapping drums. “From the Inside” introduces a reggaeton groove readymade for car stereos. But over that electrified island beat, Shorr warns us that the city’s burning. Elsewhere, he confronts the perils of opioid addiction and the unfairness of his white privilege. Not a showoff on the mic, Shorr is more of a stabilizing influence. He gets the most out of his guest rappers – Sarah Violette and Mr. Lif especially benefit from the contrast to his determined, stable flow. Us listeners? We benefit even more.

— Joe Sweeney