Young enough to have an open mind, but old enough to be mindful, Sacramento-born/Berkeley-based rapper Caleborate is an immediately striking talent brewing in the Bay Area. He’s versatile, but shrewd — always adapting his voice to the particulars of what his tracks demand with a level of precision atypical of such a fresh voice. With an abundance of confidence funneled through a keen self-awareness, Caleborate can conjure up comparisons to College Dropout-era Kanye. Lyrically, the playful rapper is perceptively focused, but through wide-eyes transfixed on the road that has led him to his current heights, and with a view of all the possibilities around him. He puts it best when he says: “I’m more like Kanye on ‘Heard ‘Em Say.’”
That line comes from “Get the Green,” a particularly shimmering standout on the rapper’s full-length debut, this summer’s Hella Good. The record is filled with colorful language, approachable optimism, and aged nostalgia — with Caleborate coming across as a best friend you intuitively root for. His sound is unlike the typical hyphy production that has become synonymous with the Bay Area rap scene. Instead, the rapper establishes himself with a distinctively wobbly flow and lively production, reminiscent of early-Lupe Fiasco.
Although his style transcends the Bay Area, Caleborate is grounded within the local hip-hop scene. Hella Good opens with the track “From the Eastbay with Love,” a Wonderlust production that crackles with Berkeley pride through an impassioned delivery about riding “around town on my bike,” and getting “played on hometown stations.” Meanwhile his latest offering is a collaboration with fellow Berkeley rapper G-Eazy — “Want It All” features a swerving piano riff holding down a soulful six minute reflection on “coming up” whilst riding AC Transit and finding inspiration in Lil B and his Vans. On that track, Caleborate sounds like he belongs in the A-League of Chicago’s SaveMoney, blending the kind-hearted soul of Chance the Rapper with the rhythmic snap of Vic Mensa.
It’s not difficult to imagine Caleborate eventually eclipsing the likes of his more famous peers. Hella Good is not simply filled to the brim with hooks and charm, but is eccentric and spirited and full of the sort of innovative sensibilities that come from those qualities. “El Bandito” takes an already unique beat with trembling synths and keeps stripping and adding layers, repurposing itself constantly over it’s four minute runtime. “Youth in Revolt,” on the other hand, features a background of howling voices and an ascending lead backing Caleborate’s rhymes about the duality of what people speak and how they act.
I saw Caleborate play a hometown show last week at UC Berkeley and his energy was immediate from the moment he bounced onto the stage. He threw his entire weight behind every syllable and when he wasn’t rapping he would launch himself to and from the sky, getting as engrossed in his own music as his audience was. His charisma was undeniable, and by the time he left the stage it felt like I was in on the next big thing. It’s hard to watch as confident of a performer as Caleborate and not feel that same level of confidence about his future.