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In theory, Reason could be TDE’s next jack-of-all-trades. He’s a capable rapper whose songs succeed most when he vividly recounts vital moments of his life over lush instrumentals. With a core similar to those of his labelmates, it’s easy to understand why TDE took a chance on him. While he may have gotten a Kendrick Lamar cosign early into his career, a public falling out between Reason and the label’s co-president Anthony “Moosa” Tiffith Jr. contextualizes much of the anxiety he raps about on his latest album Porches.

If nothing else, Reason’s latest effort shows plenty of heart and transparency, akin to a Kendrick or Isaiah Rashad record, though it can’t quite reach the same highs. Songs like “Too Much! (Melle Mel),” “Rich Mirages!,” and “Gang Shit!” all follow a similar formula consisting of angelic vocal samples, moody keys, and self-conscious raps that aim to educate younger folks to avoid the missteps he made many years prior. His earnestness can go a long way to developing a clearer picture of the Carson, California rapper, but Reason’s over-reliance on these tropes makes it hard to differentiate the songs’ themes from one another. 

Despite these songs undoubtedly sharing DNA, their sentimentality makes them worthy listens. The same can’t be said when Reason tries his hand at making more up-tempo tracks. “Caucasian Estates!” and “At It Again” recycle the celebratory horns that Jay Rock — who appears on the latter’s superior remix — used several years ago on “Win,” albeit without any of the charisma or charm that made it stand out. Reason follows Rock’s schematics to highlight his own personal victories but when most of them add up to sleeping with models and being signed to TDE (“Just hit a model, it’s raisin’ my status again / It’s Top Dawg, ho, we got the advantage again”), it just sounds more like going through the motions rather than a celebration.

The celebratory anthems may feel awkward, but at least they serve a purpose. “You Betta (Jesus Take The Wheel),” on the other hand, struggles to make a case for why it exists on the album. The song conjures up a head-scratching hook, putting Jesus in the driver’s seat while Reason raps about keeping his Glock on his lap as he watches others get criminally charged. The vague verses only add to the confusion regarding the track’s topics aside from listing his peculiar sexual preferences (“Eat yo’ pussy on the balcony, my appetite go harder / I’m a dog, ho, I beat the brakes off it”). 

Despite the frivolous moments of boisterous ramblings, Reason finds himself more at ease when he’s transparent about his life, family, and romantic musings. “FTN!” rehashes standard toxic relationship story points elevated by a sensual guest appearance from the magnetic Baby Tate. Her vocals, tender as they are tired, buoy the sex-filled song and counterweight Reason’s otherwise lethargic performance. Rarely does Reason sound totally incapable of carrying a track on his own, but Tate’s feature sparks a trend in the final third of the album that sees the album’s guests squeeze more out of their brief tenure than Reason could across the hour-long project.

Doechii shines on “I Don’t Trust You!” while Flozigg’s muffled hook on the aforementioned “Rich Mirages!” gives it a lo-fi SoundCloud appeal that would have been huge had it dropped in 2017. Even on the album’s best track, “Porch Steps!,” Reason feels like he’s playing catch-up to Junii’s sincere hook and Dirty Dell’s thorny spoken-word outro.

Though admirable in its attempt to further flesh out Reason’s emotions, Porches would have benefited from some more risks in its instrumental palette and subject matter. None of the tracks are particularly unlistenable though most of them feel like retreads of better versions from other artists on the same label, or re-worked versions of songs Reason has already made. Somewhere throughout the sessions, Reason had the blueprint for a truly captivating album. He apparently lost out on Latto and EST Gee features, which could have helped expand his ideas and add color to the album’s more mundane aspects. Still, Reason makes the most of what he has and while Porches isn’t quite the classic he envisioned, it’ll certainly fill the gaps for a label in need of a better supporting cast…if they stop tanking his stock.

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