City Paper is not for tourists
The first voice on Chaz French’s sophomore project, These Things Take Time, isn’t his own but his mother’s. In a voicemail, she calls to let him know she awoke in the middle of the night with an urge to pray for him, and she warns of danger ahead. It’s the perfect introduction to the album: a parent’s (and a pastor’s) love—her message alluding to the religion that reared him, juxtaposed with the obstacles he will face in a secular world. She’s the guardian angel in French’s all-too-familiar balancing act between righteousness and impiety.
These Things Take Time finds the D.C. native navigating life in the wake of the notoriety awarded to him after his 2014 debut Happy Belated, a mixtape that was largely inspired by his daughter. A lot has changed in the year since—French had a second child—but this album manages to feel both victorious and reflective without being pretentious. French is feverish on lead single “IDK” when he raps “I’mma do it for my daughter, daddy, sister, mama, son/ ‘Cause it’s realer than before/ We ain’t tryin’ to let it go.” But just as quickly as the energy of his rhymes peak, the song dives into mellow singing as if French is reminding himself to “let it go/ The pain is over/ It’s already done.”
Over 55 minutes, French transforms his mic into a pulpit; the speakers turn into a sanctuary, his audience the congregation. His cadence is emotive and lends an air of urgency to lyrics that, throughout These Things Take Time, broach some of the usual sophomore themes (fame, mistrust, lost relationships) but can also be deeply personal. “Questions” finds an interrogative French exploring worst-case scenarios over a bassy uptempo production highlighted by a prominent snare. “Who you gonna see when the dollars stop droppin’/ And you looking kinda low on your Instagram followers?/ Where them peoples at when you ain’t signed in/ When a retweet help when the light bill due?” he asks, and it’s hard to tell if he’s challenging himself, his listeners, or both.
At the end, Mom appears again with a bit of reassurance: “I know that you’re OK. I know that you’re working diligently on some music aspirations,” she says. “I just wanted to encourage you and let you know that I got your back in prayer, and I foresee great things happening in your life.” The moment is just as intimate as the first and functions as an effective setup for what comes next.
French’s faith is at its most discernible on “Let God,” which also includes a potent feature from his brother Eddie Vanz, each offering their own testimonies. “See I been praying/ Giving thanks and honor to the man upstairs/ I don’t know why He keep blessing me,” French waxes in the opening verse. On the hook, he sings a mantra immediately recognizable to anyone who has spent time in a church: “Sometimes you gotta let go and let God.” The song stands out from the rest in its willingness to be the gospel even in the midst of earthly imperfections. It’s a refreshing dose of the same candidness that made Happy Belated so striking. It’s also these nods to faith—the glimmers of light in the darkness—that inform the narrative of These Things Take Time and keep it together.
Stylistically, French takes on the melodious sing-rap mode of delivery that maintains its hold on a large portion of mainstream rap aesthetics, though it doesn’t seem so contrived here. He’s a capable singer and puts his skills to good use (like on “Sometimes” and “2 Good 2 Be True”), but he also isn’t afraid to let his features do the heavy lifting. Frequent collaborator and fellow D.C.-area rapper GoldLink’s contributions stand out on the futuristic dream-sequence production of “Ready,” as do those of Silver Spring vocalist Saba on “It’s Over.”
The album excels through its use of varied sounds and tempos, feeling a lot less angry than its predecessor. But this, in turn, prevents it from achieving the same intensity and rawness. That anger peeks in on occasion (“Remember,” “Pull Up”), but overall, These Things Take Time is French’s most musically polished release to date.
French turns his own life into a prism that remains unique to him but also broad in its scope. Though he’s unable to reach the emotional depths achieved on Happy Belated—his purpose here was, in fact, inclusion—These Things Take Time is a worthwhile journey through the mind of Chaz French.