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Retro TooCold explores the gloomier side of trap

The Madison rapper’s new EP, “Retrospective II,” came out on September 11.

There’s a sadness and a darkness on Madison rapper Retro TooCold’s new EP, Retrospective II, that goes beyond the usual lumbering menace of trap music. In his work under that name and previously as King Retro, musician Branden Higgans has often combined overt psychedelic elements with trap music, starting his 2017 EP Retrospective with tracks that invoke sometimes thrilling and sometimes hellish drug experiences. 

The songs on Retrospective II have plenty of the trippy flavor of Higgans’ previous work, but this time there’s less allure and mystique attached to it. On “Deja Vu,” “Lidocaine,” and “Might As Well,” Higgans sings woozy melodies over understated and moody beats from producers including Dvtchie, Shaders. (Another producer, Higgans’ longtime friend and collaborator Ice, engineered the EP.) The EP’s opening track, “525,” also produced by Dvtchie, sets an almost mournful tone with its gentle flute sounds and lyrics that hint at disillusionment and lost friendships.

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“I was trying to pretty much get myself out of the box where people would think I just made this type of music,” Higgans says. “Before I was making a lot of just hard shit, only hard shit. I wanted to branch out of people thinking that was the only type of thing I could make…I try to make it conceptualized, as much as I can.”

He still includes some “hard shit” on Retrospective II, digging back into over-the-top gravelly raps on “Highspeed” (produced by mathiasstyner) and “If God Was Real He Hates Me” (produced by F1D5). An earlier single initially planned for the EP, “Instant,” also produced by mathiasstyner, is about as close as Retro has gotten to a downright fun and upbeat track. Higgans set “Instant” aside as his writing took what he calls a “more emotional” direction, and indeed the EP offers a more vulnerable and reflective side of his work than we’ve heard before.

“I feel like this project is definitely a lot more solid than my last work, so I wanted to put a lot more into it,” he says. “I’ve developed more as a person, and you can hear it in the music as well.”

Since the first Retrospective came out, Higgans has hinted that he’d like to explore other genres. He ended a 2017 Tone Madison interview by saying, “I’m not a rapper. I’m an artist.” His other recent releases, 2019’s Look @ What The Devil Did and 2018’s Not A Coincidence, still focused mostly on rugged, nimble flows, and he’s contributed to other tracks as a member of the Elyon hip-hop collective,. Higgans, who also plays guitar and keyboards, is still hoping to make a rock album. He describes his vision for it, a bit perplexingly, as “soft-rock type shit… like Lil Peep but a bit darker.”

Retrospective II is available on Apple Music, YouTube, and Spotify.

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