The American underground is where the best action in hip-hop can be found in 2022, and with his new single “Walk the Line,” Jimmy Mack puts himself at the forefront of his scene while making a strong case for mainstream exposure as well. “Walk the Line” is an emotionally-charged piece of music, but it’s not quite a ballad – it underscores its most passionate moments with a brawn that I don’t hear enough of in contemporary rap these days. Mack is a talented songwriter, and with this imagistic addition to his discography, I think he’s going to earn a lot of cred across the indie spectrum.
Self-atonement is a theme here, but a lack of redemption is the real driving narrative in these lyrics. There’s so much pain, so much pressure remaining on the other side of Mack’s statements that we’re forced to see things through his eyes and those of the character his verses portray. He’s rejecting postmodernism for the most part, but his straightforwardness feels somewhat removed from the consistency of the beat, and even the fluidity of the melodies in the background. This wasn’t unintentional on his part; from where I sit, he wants us to interpret this song from multiple perspectives.
The instrumentation constricts us with its simplicity, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call this arrangement smothering. Mack’s vocal cuts through the sample like a hot knife through butter, and this isn’t entirely because of the clarity in the mix. Although the production quality is a step above what a lot of his peers have been producing for the better part of the year thus far, I feel like he could deliver just as imposing a verse on the stage as he does in this studio session. I’d like to find out for sure, and with the momentum this could form behind his career, I could get my wish soon.
This is a single that tells us who Jimmy Mack really is when the chips are on the table, and while “Walk the Line” borrows from old school aesthetics in the sense that its layered mix feels deliberately choppy (as to create a noir effect for the vocal), it gives us access to an artist who clearly has his head in the here and now. Mack is a songwriter and a performer for certain, but as a storyteller, he’s got a lifetime of success ahead of him.