After months of escalating hype, CRASHprez—who’s slowly assuming the mantle of curator of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s quietly bustling musical underground—has finally dropped his more perfect. project, a sprawling magnum opus exploring the black condition in America as seen through the eyes of a particularly discerning and articulate college student-cum-artist—or do I have that backwards?
The record is narratively molded in the style of Kendrick Lamar’s earth shattering good kid, m.A.A.d. city or Childish Gambino’s severely underrated meta-theatrical romp Because the Internet, following Michael Penn II’s CRASHprez character as he fakes his death in the wake of his 2013 EP Fear Itself. In an attempt to get back at the dastardly DJ Farrakhanvict—who shot Penn at the end of fear itself—Penn orchestrates a viral hit in the shape of Yung Lil Shawty’s “Hit Dat Django” so he’ll be invited to play at his own monstrously overblown memorial service dubbed, of course, ASSprez. The narrative ends, as so many do, with a dramatic showdown, police brutality and a frank but brutally unsatisfying conversation with God. The story interweaves with goosebump-raising tracts on religion, pornography, sex, racial politics, violence, black media and the transcendental nature of genius communicated via Radiohead adoration.
Thankfully, over his tenure at Madison, Penn’s skills and technical buoys have come to parallel his ever-demanding ambition. The sense of awkward DIY fumbling that loomed over his earlier releases, of a mind racing faster than a body can keep up with, is largely absent here. Instead, more perfect. sees him stepping into his own as the mastermind orchestrator, the man with a plan. And it shows through just how incredibly well everything here syncopates: the manic fluxes of Lord of the Fly’s show-stealing verses on highlights “We Want Warfare” and “Love The Police,” the pitch-black humor of “Hit Dat Django,” the swelling horns on “Dogmatic,” featuring Taylor Scott, the superfan name-checking of “Thom Yorke is Black,” everything just absolutely fits together. It helps that the production on the record is, for lack of a better phrase, truly some next level shit, an effortless amalgam of hazy cloud beats, dreamy downtempo, skeletal clatter, Near East loops and sleepy R&B. To put it simply, the record bangs. Most importantly of all, though, is Penn himself. Always passionate and one step from the edge, on more perfect., he finally seems to have found a perfect measure for his distinctly off-kilter flow, channeling his endless internal riot into something profound and dissectible. Make no mistake; he’s the bandleader, the master of ceremonies, the top of the pyramid, and he inherits his role with relish.
For as deft as Penn’s construction and politics are, however, his choice of vessel sometimes proves alienating. The narrative of the record is never outright detracting, but its deeply satirical and meta-referential nature (at one point Penn lambasts another character for claiming to understand concealed carry laws in their notedly fictional universe) sometimes proves tonally inconsistent. DJ Farrakhanvict especially feels cartoonish, his Tyler, The Creator baritone and blatant send up of cliched black mass media grating against the more serious conversation of the songs.
In the face of a staggering accomplishment like more perfect. though—an endlessly appealing, intelligent and subversive record—it’s an easy sin to forgive. And after all, if Penn dialed back his ambition even one iota he wouldn’t be CRASHprez, and with the state of the world today maybe that would be the gravest sin of all.
Michael Penn II is a member of The Daily Cardinal Editorial Board.
Correction: The original version of this article didn't include Michael Penn II's first name, and didn't have the correct suffix for his name. The Daily Cardinal regrets this error.