In midwxst’s hands, adolescence is less of a roller coaster and more of a drop tower, liable to leave the faint of heart swearing off rides forever. Since breaking out in the world of hyperpop in 2020, the young Indiana producer has adopted different sounds—emo, digicore, rage rap—to convey his big-hearted, turbulent songs about loving, hating, and hating to love. On his debut album E3, Edgar Sarratt III settles into a nimbly eclectic mode of pop-trap he tested on 2022’s better luck next time. The style suits his inclination for layered harmonies, especially ones that dip, swell, and soar around his warble. Laying his omnivorous tastes over gospel and rock textures, E3 positions midwxst not as a Playboi Carti heir, but a pop star in his own right.

Unlike other SoundCloud-grown artists who’ve blossomed in anonymity, midwxst’s music is fueled by the need to feel seen: by girls who mess with his head, relatives he’s determined to make proud, and a fanbase he wants to commiserate with. On album opener “lost,” a twinkling piano tune that blooms into a full-fledged rock song, he revisits that desire for recognition from a more jaded perspective, singing: “Time has changed me/But I don’t think you cared.” “lost” is indebted to Kanye West, in part because it includes vocals from members of the Sunday Service Choir, but it is still squarely midwxst in its snarling, lovelorn vulnerability. It feels more authentic for Sarratt, a far cry from the imitative, Carti-style flexes on last year’s Back in Action 3.0.

midwxst’s big, uncomplicated hooks—crafted alongside co-executive producer Sophie Gray—feel designed to coax out oceans of iPhone flashlights. He’s skilled at making songs for the mass catharsis of an arena show: the yowled “I know” of “warning,” the repeated titular cry of “lights out,” the juxtaposition of a hopeless chorus over a wistful guitar riff on “like nah.” Even the requisite fuckboy track “s.f.b.” can easily be shouted with the same abandon that Denzel Curry brings to the Lil Jon-style outro.

Despite its studied gloss, E3 is still an introduction, and not every shot lands. Sarratt sometimes relies on well-tread idioms, such as “I’ve been shot by Cupid,” which don’t always match the intimacy of the music. Rhyming “you” with “you” on the penultimate “hate how much” is a bit egregious, especially when there’s five writers in the room. But the best parts of E3 are delicate and unexpected. The centerpiece “heartache blues” is exultant, blending stacked vocoder harmonies à la Imogen Heap, a plucky sung refrain, a radio-ready trap verse, and a pattering dembow riddim punctuated with handclaps into one big production flex. Tellingly, the verse barely stands out.

The frenzied structures of hyperpop and rage rap were valuable templates for Sarratt’s earlier work (after all, this is an artist who fondly recalls throwing punches in the pit at one of Carti’s recent Rolling Loud sets). But the softer melodies that midwxst carries through E3 elevate his high-drama impulses in a new way, lifted by producers like Gray, collaborators like Curry, and a major-label tool kit. Even when his lines lean rudimentary or his flows feel repetitive, the more expansive palette he’s drawing from helps mask some of the lyrical clunkiness. By the closing track “ready for you,” his writing reveals the growth possible with some guiding hands; the internal rhyme and evocative image of “I ride head out the window/playing limbo with the wind” is one of his strongest bars yet. He’s learning to wield his rawness, and maintaining soul even if he sounds more polished.

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