Baltimore artist Lor Choc has always been good at more than just adapting to popular beats. Even in her high school years, when she was uploading freestyles to [YouTube], she had so much bottled up inside that any opportunity to emit just a slither of it had to be seized for her own wellbeing. One of the best early examples of that came in 2016, when an 18-year-old Choc took on the then-viral “Ten Toes Down” challenge and shared that a generally-turbulent home life, including her mother’s battle with lupus, was driving her to drugs to suppress her pain. At a glance, those themes aren’t foreign to any young hip-hop act; much of the genre’s legacy rests on its most beloved artists being able to be a voice for the challenges — and joys — of their respective communities. But as rap continues to steadily reach ubiquity and a new crop of artists are fed to audiences, it’s becoming harder to sift through the pool for authenticity. And that’s where Lor Choc is able to stand out: Regardless of how familiar you are with the central themes of her music, the unmistakable sincerity in her delivery is what penetrates.
Choc’s emotional depth isn’t just reserved for hard-luck stories, either. 2017’s “Fast Life” focused on running up a bag, but it was Choc’s vocal conviction that urged the listener to adopt her cash-hungry urgency. On last year’s “Speechless (Hurt So Bad),” she detailed the anguish she felt from reliving the pain of a failed relationship. In the end, she figured not talking about it altogether felt like the better choice. Most of Choc’s music feels like it’s informed by similar sentiments; her piercing intensity seems to be driven by the fact that she waits until she writes or records to release whatever tugs at her heartstrings. And the listener gets to experience that process as she works through them in real time. Last week, the 20-year-old released her sophomore mixtape, Love Is Love (for which “Speechless” is the lead single). It’s a fully comprehensive, 35-minute-long, first-person account of the many ways young romance can grip at the core of whoever is crazy enough to participate in it.
“Speechless” (track nine of twelve), comes at a point on Love Is Love when Choc is closer to her wits’ end with a relationship. But before then, all the fuzziness and rapturous nature of young love is thick enough to slice. “Go Far” starts the tape with a funky, gripping bassline and flute-like synths that lay the foundation for Choc to run off the many ways a girl she’s seeing is devoid of flaws — so perfect that Choc would much rather put the cuffs on her than just keep a steady, sexual relationship going. That’s followed by the tape’s best shot at a takeoff single in the airy and catchy “Vibe,” which captures all of the best feelings of new romance: “Boo’d up, I don’t even go outside no more / You know what’s on my heart, it ain’t inside no more / Cause when I get around you I feel free / I ain’t gotta fake it, I can really be me.”
By the time Love Is Love gets out of the honeymoon phase, all of the not-so-glossy things associated with first experiencing committed relationships get the most passion out of Choc. Insecurity and possessiveness reveal themselves quite often. “Ride,” while it sounds like an easygoing jingle, finds Choc wailing out the plea, “Tell me you will never leave me” regardless of how rough things may get along the way. In one of the project’s more hard-hitting tracks (and the only one with a feature), “Around,” Choc demands that her love interest guarantee their commitment for her own comfort. Guitar strums help drive her feelings of devastation over a lover not valuing her on “How I Feel.”
Sonically, the project is often saved by Lor Choc’s voice, which is strong enough to penetrate through whatever production and mixing deficiencies may be present — an issue that’s been present in her music for the past few years. Tracks like “Soul Cry” have significantly lower volume than others and “How I Feel” is begging to hit harder. “My All,” one of the tape’s closing tracks, feels like a lazy attempt at pop, and the overall message of the project would still be intact if it were shaved off.
Love Is Love finds most of its success by framing Lor Choc as an artist with an emotional intelligence that is rare for someone her age. That could solely rest on the fact that she’s just being honest in her lyrics. Anyone who has experienced love in their late teenage years or their early 20s knows that, due to inexperience, codependency, and probably too many inaccurate depictions of what love is supposed to look through pop culture, young people are mostly incapable of keeping another person fully happy. They haven’t even learned how to do that for themselves. Young love is often an escape from whatever restraints people have had placed onto them by family or society up to that point, and once one party or another learns that they don’t need another person to help them cope with growing pains any longer, they naturally move onto the next phase in their lives. Even if it’s unintentional, Lor Choc has perfectly laid out what it feels like to experience the ups and downs of that process.