Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is A Japanese Horror Film, the new album from rapper Chester Watson.
The St. Louis-raised, South-reared Chester Watson is a talented man, cut from a digital lineage of youthful rap virtuosos granted early attention. At surface, he’s the weird homie who never rocked the same shit as his classmates, the kind who’d spend evenings in one’s basement filing through culture ‘til he found the tools to chisel his own into stone. But at 23, it’s hard to fathom how quickly the decade’s passed as a rabid core devours the fruit of his bloom. Like most twentysomethings, he’s the product of a childhood in the Internet era, commandeering such accessibility to tend to a cavalcade of influences from all over the landscape. To date, his strain of rap’s treaded the murkier edges of the underground: his voice favors a mumble or grunt, his skills lean on the dexterous and dizzying without drowning his sauce for style points. While many young talents couldn’t extend their moment or fell to their own hype, Chester’s parlayed teenage acknowledgment into an oeuvre of spellbinding mastery and unyielding ambition.
While Chester carries many projects to his name, A Japanese Horror Film carries a proper debut’s weight from the moment the cab door slams shut in Japan. In a tight 41 minutes, we’re guided through a self-produced astral projection, a spiritual journey purposefully obscured for the listener to delve into themselves at every turn. The micro places Chester into the protagonist role as he walks through his own mind in search of spiritual connectivity through whichever possibilities present themselves; the mystical themes aren’t decorative, but deliberately curated to form a walkthrough of the rich tapestry of his influences. Larger questions aside, this album finds Chester doing his most precise rapping, sliding relentlessly through the hazy underworld he’s submerged in at a pace slow enough to follow, yet at breakneck speed to tackle whichever subject at hand. He’s a technician at heart, even with easier subject matter: he, too, enjoys the finer things in life, but will never spare a detail to tell us which ILU thread he’s picked out for today or which anime plays as his vices take hold.
A Japanese Horror Film finds Chester excelling at his curatorial eye with a focus that renders even his most impressive prior works as preambles to this moment. From the music he designs to the supporting cast he enlists - a stream of brilliant collaborators from his universe, ranging from Psymun and K.Raydio to Kent Loon and dua saleh - Chester provides a suave allure to what reads as a huge ordeal on paper. The spiritual and celebratory mesh well through the loose threads that tie this journey together, with the best moments sneaking into the psyche much like the subgenres that influenced him. One mustn’t be deeply-acquainted with Yokai lore or any myriad of references from Chester’s knowledge base to glean the depth of his engagement, making for a record that’ll reward repeated listening and further digging. This should come as no surprise: to listen to Chester Watson is to bask in awe of his skill while sinking one’s teeth into the many corners of an overstimulated psyche, grasping for clarity. This album is his best rendition: a soundtrack from the fringes between generations, as sleek and stylish as it is heavy with the gravity of the unknown.