Bktherula expands her consciousness on LVL 5 P2

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Bktherula. Photo via publicist


To hear Bktherula tell it, “LVL 5” refers to planes of consciousness: we all start at Level 3 (because we’re three-dimensional beings), then ascend to Level 4 (akin to breaking out of the Matrix) and then Level 5, where an individual overcomes their ego to have compassion for their fellow man, whatever level they’re on. There are levels beyond this, but this fifth dimension beyond the astral realm is where the 21-year-old artist resides. That all may sound a little silly, but on last year’s intense LVL 5 P1, these high-minded philosophical conceits came through in Bk’s starkly emotional songwriting about relationships, even if those softer songs were interspersed with some of the surliest industrial knockers in recent memory.

Out today, Bktherula’s latest album LVL 5 P2 finds the Atlanta rapper folding more mainstream sounds into her repertoire. At its best, the synthesis of P2 yields superfun songs that could climb into your most played overnight; at its worst, you’re still listening to one of the most versatile rappers in her cohort, albeit making less interesting songs. Clocking in at a svelte 30 minutes, LVL 5 P2 functions best not as a sequel, but as a companion to its predecessor — which makes sense when you remember that P2 stands not for “Part 2” but “Player 2.”

Bktherula is a chameleonic rapper-singer capable of twisting on a dime. Her slippery vocals tend to stick to one register for most of a track, but that doesn’t matter much when her gruff barks and emotive falsettos are so immediate and visceral. And considering most of the songs on LVL 5 P2 evaporate around the 120-second mark, it’s hard for any one of Bk’s styles to overstay its welcome. Instead, the breakneck pivots lend themselves to dramatic scene shifts, the way momentum might ratchet up in a fast-paced thriller.

Take the album’s opening suite, where the gnashing cacophony of “CODE” softens into the warp drive synths of the downtempo “NUN” before Bk sneers all over the lurching “TATTI.” On “CODE,” she’s semi-manic, reworking boilerplate tropes in her frenzied verses: “Ran off with your bitch she turnin’ around and touchin’ her toes / These n***as they hate me in public, in private they hittin’ me ‘yo.’” But the hedonistic exterior belies a surprisingly soft center — “NUN” finds Bktherula reminiscing on old photos with an ex-girlfriend who dumped her (“Whatever you want I would get it / As long as your ass gon forgive me”).

Splitting the difference between gangster rap tough talk and quiet storm pillow talk is de rigueur for plenty of her contemporaries, but both volumes of LVL 5 stand out from the crowd thanks to strong production by azure and Simmyauto that largely avoids sonic cliché. Drilling down on the sounds of LVL 5 P1, P2 is a little less inventive than its predecessor — there’s a very cool Cash Cobain feature and a handful of songs echo other artists — but on the whole remains compulsively listenable.

Although I’m more partial to Bktherula in take-no-prisoners rap mode over titanic beats, she’s only grown more adept as a singer. The back half of the record includes the squeakily moody “WISHUWASDACREW,” the billowing lead single “CRAYON,” and the grandiose sweep of “FEATHERS.” “JUST MAKE SURE” and “RACKS UP” sound a little like Lil Nas X and Ty Dolla $ign tracks, respectively, but Bk’s assured delivery and pitch-perfect vocals make sure she comes off as inspired rather than derivative.

Other parts of the record are less impressive, though still well-executed. Second single “THE WAY” is sweet and hypnotic, but doesn’t feel memorable; you could say the same about early album cut “BOI.” Ken Carson-soundalike “INSANE” is frustratingly bland: rappers are supposed to blatantly bite more famous artists when they don’t have any musical ideas of their own, and that isn’t Bktherula. Where “JUST MAKE SURE” and “RACKS UP” at least feel fully lived in, “INSANE” feels more listless than locked in. Then there’s “WOMAN,” which starts to gel roughly midway through Bk’s opening verse before she passes the baton to J.I.D. It’s a perfectly fine song, but the feature does feel out of place, especially compared to the zero-guests approach of LVL 5 P1.

Despite its album billing, LVL 5 P2 recalls the deluxe edition of WUNNA, which saw Gunna expanding and reorganizing the original record’s tracklist to incredible results — the pivot in public reception for the reworked album compared to the original still impresses me nearly four years later. And who doesn’t love a double feature? Considering LVL 5 P1 is just 20 minutes long, blending both volumes in a playlist would yield a 50-minute LP that could stand tall against plenty of full-length releases from recent years.

Last fall, Bktherula discussed the various characters she embodies on record: boisterous Rue Santan, poised princess Tanya, hedonist Rula, and demented Tanjenica. It’s a testament to her range as a performer that even as character sketches, these personas feel musically distinct. But no matter which avatar she channels on LVL 5 P2 — happy, horny, heartbroken, hardcore — Bktherula remains on her own singular plane.