Brockton hip-hop artist Luke Bar$ blends ambition and vulnerability over spacious trap beats, tackling generational trauma and its lasting effects.
Brockton-based rapper Luke Bar$ is no stranger to peeling back layers on wax. Prior to his most recent 13-track effort, Angels Never Die, Bar$ had sharpened his pen through two individual projects and additional contributions to two albums under Van Buren Records—the 13-member hip-hop collective to which he belongs. It is particularly in the context of the latter that Bar$’s offerings on the mic have developed into a sound distinct from his groupmates: a raspy, high-pitched delivery with the unique ability to pivot from aggressive to vulnerable on a dime.
Angels Never Die — Bar$’s third solo body of work — not only illustrates this balancing act between the turn-up and the come-down from a vocal and instrumental standpoint, but also through a conceptual lens that places his past, present, and future under a microscope. The intro track, “Faithful To The End,” sets the scene with a distant echo of sirens and the sounds of someone running and gasping for breath. The pace of the runner’s footsteps dictates the tempo of the track as sparse, eerie piano keys creep into the mix underneath emergent voices of a choir. This haunting atmosphere is maintained for the duration of the tracklist, operating as the spine of a multidimensional LP and priming the listener for an emotional whirlwind.
The proficiency with which Bar$ approaches a bouncy trap instrumental is epitomized in the opening portion of Angels Never Die. Atop the gritty sparks of production that yank the listener into an unbridled head nod, Bar$’s flow possesses a boosted intensity that matches their heightened energy. From venting about his wishes to make it out of the projects on the second track “Yeah Yeah” (“Stressed as fuck, can’t take this, I just wanna lane switch, buy my mom a mansion”) to calling out those who pose as killers on the third track “Get The Gat” (“Why you bragging ’bout that body? You ain’t even do that shit”), Bar$’s brimming frustrations steer Angels Never Die into unpredictable territory and open the door for curiosity regarding when he will reach his tipping point.
The narrative arc of the project begins to take shape with the fourth track “Tables Turn” — a smooth, ambient trap cut that leaves room for Bar$ and Dorchester-born rapper Cousin Stizz to manifest their dreams of success and financial stability despite the “fucked-up things [they’ve seen] with [their] eyelids.” The following interlude “Angels Everywhere” further speaks to these traumatizing images, as the narrator recounts the story of a shadowy figure approaching his car on a hot summer day and pulling a gun on him. The interlude concludes at the sound of a gunshot and masterfully transitions into “Breathe,” aptly sampling a line from Bekon’s “Oxygen”: “When I find it hard to breathe on my own.”
The seventh and eighth cuts on the album, “Breathe” and “Peanut Butter,” showcase a mellower delivery from Bar$ as he abandons the aggressive edge to reflect on the stability he needs from a partner to keep him above water. In an exclusive Sound of Boston interview with VB back in 2021, Bar$ examined his creative process and its connection to isolation and relationships by expressing, “I pull a lot from negativity, I guess. Growing up, I saw more lust than love. I’m just trying to implement that and everything else that I’ve been through into the art.” This self-awareness and vulnerability pours through the speakers on the ninth track “Lord Take My Hand,” the strain in Bar$’s voice growing to the point of needing rest: “I’m thinking way more than I should be. I need to take a break from all of these emotions.”
It is in these caves of Bar$’s conscience, however, that raw diamonds reside, waiting to be extracted and unveiled in the form of lyrical gems; to say that the penultimate track “No One Ever Really Dies” contains several would be an understatement. The six-minute therapy session reveals everything that plagues his mental state, opening with an outright apology for his wrongdoings (“So I say I’m sorry, I can’t die with a tainted soul”) and closing with optimistic sentiments stemming from an undying spirit (“The road of a righteous man ain’t ever been easy, but if I don’t do this shit, ain’t nobody gonna teach me”). The deep-rooted ills surrounding Bar$ — his uncle’s death at the hands of cancer, his father’s brokenness, his brother’s absence, his cousin’s change in attitude when given money — have paved a sidewalk that contains cracks, yet lead to somewhere more freeing than the present.
With the release of Angels Never Die, forthright lyricism and ambient trap production merge to form a textured collection of diary entries grounded in hunger and raw emotion. Luke Bar$ has engraved his name in a contemporary hip-hop landscape with intentions of confronting generational trauma and breaking free of its cyclical grip.