On New EP, Jacksonville Hip-Hop Artist Willie Evans Jr. Explores High-Level Concepts with Nuanced Cool

Longtime Duval-based hip-hop artist Willie Evans Jr. is back with 'Good Grief: Vol. 1,' a five-song EP for the lovelorn | COurtesy of Bandcamp (cropped)

Prolificity, patience, and discernment are all evident in the mix-mind of Willie Evans Jr. The Duval-based hip-hop polymath has been creating music and cultivating the overall contemporary Southeastern rap scene for so long—25+ years and counting—that it seems as if he was always been present.

Evans is woven tightly into the Full Plate label-scene, an imprint that has codified and transmitted a series of releases between Jacksonville-Atlanta musicians. Founded by Dillon Maurer and the late Paten Locke and with a label roster including Batsauce, Stono Echo, Day Tripper, The Difference Machine and Yamin Semali, the Full Plate label boasts a humble ethos and solidarity that’s akin to a like-minded dub, metal or free jazz label: music that is frustratingly off-radar yet invariably appealing when the esoteric frequency is found.

“Denial,” opening track from Evans’ new EP Good Grief Vol. 1: Love is a streamlined slice of cerebral hip hop intent on exploring, maybe even healing, the broken heart. Pinned on a staticky loop of jabbed keyboard chords and a reductionist clacking beat, Evans peels off a micro-narrative with his plainspoken delivery. Vinyl pops and crackle become a de facto bass line as Evans wonders about the eternal “she,” and if she still thinks of him, rewinding the past to “magically unlock love / right there on the spot,” then in real time he is lost in thought (“maybe I can make a mixtape or something? They still do that?”). But before he finds the answers, the track dissolves into a splice of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love” and fades away.

The remaining tracks of Good Grief are titled “Anger,” “Bargaining,” “Depression” and “Acceptance,” the sequential stages of loss and grief as defined by acclaimed 20th-century Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross as “boom bap ballads.” In the liner notes, Evans explains that the EP is inspired by both Kübler-Ross and Charles Schulz universal, lovelorn everyman “Charlie Brown”—a singular concept and end product that assure the listener Evans is aiming high above mere dancefloor traction.

As an engaging lure to delve into the rest of the 904 hip-hop auteur’s latest music, the 22-minute Good Grief Vol. 1: Love is available via Bandcamp (here) as a digital download and also as a limited-edition cassette housed in a candy heart box, containing paper messages for the lovelorn.

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