The moment JWords and maassai crossed paths, collaboration was inevitable. After meeting at a showcase in 2017, the New Jersey producer and Brooklyn rapper each felt they’d found a kindred spirit, deciding to unite the former’s knotty production with the latter’s blunt introspection as the duo H31R. On their 2020 debut ve​·​loc​·​i​·​ty, JWords laid Jersey club rhythms and boom-bap drums atop warped loops as maassai unspooled philosophical examinations of self. Their new record, HeadSpace, is a confident expansion of their electronic rap vision, with wonky, alien-sounding songs that feel beamed in from the future.

For HeadSpace, JWords followed the synth-based blueprint of ve​·​loc​·​i​·​ty highlight “toxic behavior,” a flurry of lightning-speed kicks and locomotive hi-hats that charges through soft fog. The songs seem to glow from within: Textured, harmonically rich pulses drive “Backwards” and “Glass Ceiling,” while “Static” and “Train of Thought” feature glassy FM tones. JWords’s percussion sounds are warm and rubbery; bass drums land with a gooey throb and every snare has a satisfying mechanical snap.

It’s the duo’s manipulation of rhythm that makes HeadSpace so entrancing. JWords seems to delight in pushing syncopation to new limits, often starting with a certain sequence only to completely scramble it. The agitated line that opens “Glitch in Time” threatens to wriggle free at any moment, but the song locks into place once JWords adds a rigid latticework of clicks and beeps. “Backwards” fits a loping, atonal synth figure into a stuttering drum pattern, constantly playing with the location of the downbeats. Occasionally, songs end before the groove can fully breathe—the ghostly drum’n’bass of “All Over the Place” could be a sprawling dancefloor jam, but disintegrates after one minute.

As a rapper, maassai is equally beguiling. She subtly stretches and compresses her husky voice, delivering each line with a slight sneer. At first blush, her lyrics read as swaggering shit talk—“I ain’t eat dinner yet/But I’m so full of myself I could skip it,” she boasts on “Train of Thought”—but they’re often cues for deeper self-examination. She frequently alternates point of view, giving her raps a dreamlike, psychedelic quality. “When you scared of me, I’m scared too/You look at me and see you,” she raps on “Reflection,” her voice somewhere between a coo and a growl.

Together, JWords and maassai create songs that feel like expertly assembled puzzles. On “Down Down Bb,” maassai spits rapid-fire lines as JWords’ kicks hang off the edge of each phrase: “Let me get the rhythm of your head/Let me get the rhythm of your feet.” On the closer “Air It Out,” JWords constructs a mechanical churn while maassai repeats certain phrases as if subject to delay, adding swing to the track’s grid. On HeadSpace, two potent solo artists tap into and augment each other’s strengths, practicing a kind of understated alchemy that doesn’t sound quite like anyone else.

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