AfterParadise, the new concept album from Columbus rapper Dom Deshawn, opens with a flight in a jet plane and closes with a final celebratory night in paradise.
In between, the record’s narrator struggles with impostor syndrome, reconciles with a breakup, and eventually takes time out to feel the sand between their toes, leaning into the seclusion offered by the tropical setting as a means of again finding a balance. “The little things make life incredible,” Deshawn raps on “Mai Tai Confessions,” a song that plays like a spiritual turning point following “Beachfront Breakup” and “The Valleys,” a track on which the narrator struggles to even get out of bed.
While much of the action centers on a character that Deshawn described as a fictionalized version of himself, the rapper said he envisioned the project as a sort of hip-hop “The White Lotus,” with tracks capturing the perspectives of a handful of players gathered at a seaside resort. “The Greed/The Guilt,” for one, is written from the perspective of a wealthy resort owner struck with dissatisfaction at having been born into a life over which they have little control. “Am I happy who I am?” Deshawn repeats as the song nears its midpoint, allowing the question to hover in the air rather than presenting an answer.
“Everyone at the resort has their own thing going on, but they’re all living there under this same umbrella,” Deshawn said of AfterParadise, which releases digitally on Tuesday, Sept. 26 (though you can listen to the album ). “Even the tagline ‘not even paradise is perfect’ hits on the idea that you can be in this beautiful environment, and it can all be pretty on the surface level, but then underneath there’s this darkness.”
Deshawn said he initially conceived AfterParadise in 2019, making early sketches of summer-themed tracks meant to capture a breezy seaside vibe. But then COVID-19 hit, and the ensuing shutdown extended into the rapper’s planned musical travels, leading him to focus on songs that exuded a more shut-in, wintery vibe. Deshawn released these comparatively chilly recordings on Tale of Two Seasons.
Interviewed at the time, Deshawn described Two Seasons as something of an emotional turning point. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and if I keep pushing, by the spring and summer, things are going to be really solid for me,” he said.
AfterParadise reflects this upturn, with even its most downcast moments constructed atop a scaffolding of hope. On “Nostalgia,” the rapper responds to looming roadblocks by saying it’s time to “start leaping,” while the lows of “The Valleys” arrive with a built-in awareness that these dips are temporary.
Even “Beachfront Breakup” comes from a hard-won place of perspective – not a shattered lament looking for a victim in which to sink the blade but a mature take on what it means to move on while hoping for the best for everyone involved. “I think that came from going through a breakup a few years ago, and looking back at how non-toxic that was,” said Deshawn, who allowed that the fictional events that unfold on the record were often informed by experiences and emotions culled from his own life. “There was never any ill will, and we never came at each other from a malicious place, and I think that’s reflected in the music and in the storytelling.”
This same maturity carries over into Deshawn’s increasingly measured flow. It’s arguable the rapper has never sounded as comfortable on record as he does here, and he maintains an almost conversational cadence even amid the breakneck lyrical snap of “Nostalgia.”
Deshawn said this is part of an ongoing evolution as a rapper and writer, the roots of which he captures on “Nostalgia” when he spits about “words busting out the spine” of his childhood composition books.
“Back in the day, I was the kid that would just write, and I wouldn’t even write to beats,” said Deshawn, who described how he would then attempt to pack these wordy verses into a track – the lyrical equivalent of cramming a week’s worth of clothing into an overnight bag. “Now when I write songs, I’m conscious about the live performance and things like breath control. And it really has changed my writing process … to where I’ll write four lines and then give myself some space to breathe.”
For Deshawn, the record’s larger concept served as a similar reminder to occasionally hit pause – a concept with which the rapper has generally struggled. “I have a problem sitting down, because I have all of these goals and all of these things I need to accomplish,” said Deshawn, who has become increasingly aware of the need to build at least small moments of reflection into his day. “The last few weeks, the weather has been nice, and I’ve been walking more, trying to take time out to sit and reflect and enjoy the moment. ... I’m trying to get better at it, and I’m very conscious that I need to do that more rather than going 100 miles per hour all of the time.”