Baltimore-born rapper Avery LR doesn’t take “no” for an answer in life, as demonstrated in Surviving, his first full-length, 25-track autobiographical pursuit that takes listeners through the stormy trials of his time on earth. A majority of the artist’s life was spent in and out of prisons visiting family members who got involved with drugs and crime. After moving to Colombia with his grandmother when he was young, he became more exposed to the nefarious lifestyle. Surviving is a bible of life lessons and euphemisms as much as it is a book of retribution. Surviving projects vengeance in both the traditional and non-traditional sense of the word. Avery LR’s most powerful revenge is found in the principles that guide his life and dreams and the life and dreams of his young.

“First of all, I don’t do friends” is how Avery LR starts off the “Chiraq” intro, and from the outset listeners are thrust into a war-torn reality. Chicago saw its highest murder rates in 2016, the highest its ever been in the city over the last 17 years. Avery LR provides a stormy commentary on contemporary urban life over a throbbing bass. He transforms the listener experience by taking us to a decade and place in time, the slums of Baltimore, where he grew up.

With the meat and bread of his struggle made loud and clear, listeners arrive at “All The Way Up,” a remix of a classic joint made famous by Fat Joe, Remy Ma, and French Montana. “Talked to labels about a year ago, and I guess I wasn’t good enough / I just went harder didn’t get down but I’m back now and I’m all the way up,” Avery LR exclaims vocally. He walks us through his journey as an independent musician forcing his way to the top. “Dreams” is another track that reminds musicians and artists everywhere why the gamble is worth the losses if it’s what you truly love to do. He rhymes, “My music is everything, it’s all that I ever do, the struggle is what I rap cause it’s all that I ever knew / I take the risk for my kids for you nothing to prove / I’m out here trying to get the W but I’m willing to lose.”

Another remix, “7 Years” featuring his son Aries – mirrors the song by Lukas Graham of the same title. Here we learn that Avery LR is a family man first. “I want the best for my boys. I don’t want them being no crooks. So they can’t pickup a gun, cause their hands are too full with them books,” he says openly. “The worst thing in life, son, is for you to never take your chance.” Again, we learn what is truly valuable to the rapper, for there are never do-overs in life. Only do-nows.

Some of the tracks on the album are straight-up startling. Track 11, “Believe Me” gets me personally riled up. “My gun is like a dog, it gets madder when you run away.” The machismo is speaking. This is a song about protecting your own from the economic and social disparities that swindle us from the developing relationships we all deserve to experience before we die. Although I know that songs like these are necessary for his story telling, I feel a sense of deep loss that I can’t seem to shake off. “Poor Decisions” makes me feel a similar way. Avery LR raps, “We fresh but can’t afford to eat. Poor n***** making poor decisions. Social media clouding up all our youth’s vision. Fuck what you wearing brah, how you living? Cause how you living gon’ have you dead or in prison.”

Avery LR balances the hard with the soft on the final track, the “Hello” outro, which  is written in intimate verse to his grandmother. He talks about manning up during a moment of clarity. “Hello grandma, how you been? I havent talk to you in a while. I’ve been praying more and drinking less, trying to change my lifestyle.” It’s very endearing for someone like me who didn’t grow up with either set of grandparents.

Surviving is a harrowing story with a light at the end of the tunnel. I have a good idea of who the artist is, but I feel there is still a lot left unexplored. Linguistically, the album only skims the surface of emotion. There are better ways to emote specific feelings, and I feel like Avery LR could’ve spent some more time on the song writing and imagery of his musical debut. For people who like a more straight-forward type of story telling, this mixtape is great. For those who enjoy more of a psychological and literature-rich chase, this probably isn’t for you.

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