As a poet, I love it when songwriters utilise clever wordplay in their rhymes. So when Francis Arevalo’s HEATCHECK! was introduced to my ears, I was thrilled by the creative and powerful lines jammed into its 14 tracks. It’s no coincidence. The Vancouver-based Filipino hip-hop artist has a background in slam poetry that lends itself to his lyrical dribbling. It’s best shown in “Slam (Interlude),” a one-minute slam poem detailing Arevalo’s childhood love for poetry and basketball. It embodies that picture of him as a kid on the album cover. “One time she asked why you always riding a ball and don’t you want all of this? / I thought I’d polish songs to save my life ball for a scholarship.” Damn.
Did I mention this dude loves basketball? His love for hooping heats up in “Open Gym,” a nearly three-minute-long track chock full of rhymes mentioning basketball players, lingo, and history — a must-listen for any fan of the sport.
However, HEATCHECK!’s main highlights are the powerful themes Arevalo hones in on, including individuality and self-discovery. Tracks like “Do You” have confident lyrics telling listeners to keep true to themselves, take pride in their work, and trust the process. Some might call it cliche, but they hit close to home. This doesn’t mean Arevalo shies away from more treacherous feelings. Like anyone can see themselves in the seat of success, the lyrics of self-doubt in “Sunrise at Mt. Pleasant” also ring true for many. “What if my work’s worthless? / What if my worth worthless?” It’s these simple questions we ask ourselves too often.
Ok, now that I’ve finished my formal essay it’s time to let loose and talk about “Get Buckets.” The buildup is hype as hell! Imagine walking onto the floor for the biggest moment of your life. Yeah, that’s this song. The beat is so damn good too! The drums, choir, bass, everything. Then, Arevalo steps up and throws down verses hotter than Jimmy Butler in the playoffs for the next four minutes. At one point he starts sounding like he could beat Eminem in 8-mile. “Simbas baggin’ it out he shouldn’t have let the cat out,” is just one of the banger lines. I wish I could put more but if I was to put all my favourites, this review would smash the word limit. Screw it, go listen for yourselves. I can’t explain it, but I will say this:
Lyrics like Cole’s and Curry’s. Beats like Tupac’s and Biggie’s. Despite that, Francis Arevalo stands in his own court, ball in hand, ready to take his shot.