If you told me to find one song that captures the zeitgeist in regards to how the hill feels about current hip hop, it would be impossible to do any better than “Just Not Cool Anymore” off of Toronto MC Modulok’s new album You Look So Tragic.

Not that we’ve ever been as cool as Modulok, aka Moe Gonsalves, but writing about hip hop (and almost any other genre in the indie specter, for that matter) at the almost geriatric-like age of 37, I can certainly empathize with the bemusement and world-weariness that seeps from that otherwise delightful jam.

If you’re familiar at all with my hip hop coverage here on the hill, it won’t shock you to hear that I love this record. I’ve been a big supporter of Modulok’s work over the last few years, generally giving his releases the most positive reviews I could cobble together. That said, You Look So Tragic might be the best of the bunch; it’s my favorite hip hop album so far, and it may just end up being my favorite album of the year overall when things are said and done.

Modulok is not one of those MC’s that will blow you away with verbal gymnastics or slang-y gimmicks, but his gritty, pull-no-punches style is engrossing and enlightening if you give it a chance. As you might guess from the album’s title, there’s a current of sadness that runs right through the heart of it, but it’s not a mournful sadness. Modulok’s sadness feels hard earned, he embraces it, and wears it throughout each and every song like a badge of honour. That vibe is perhaps captured best by my favorite line from album opener “Monster Sufi Tiger Shark.”

This song is like a man being led to his execution passing through a sunbeam and deciding to strut

Great stuff, but don’t let me lead you to believe that this is a sad-sack emo rap endeavor – Modulok also raps about rap things like you’d expect him to: girls, booze, fake rappers and government corruption all get some run between the album’s more pensive moments. But even when he does a fun, uptempo concept song like “Coffee”, which is indeed dedicated to everyone’s favorite warm, brown beverage, he throws in a “and unlike alcohol, it never ruined my life” at the end of the chorus to bring things back down to earth.

Musically, the album sounds fantastic. No third rate, turdly house tracks or tin-can machine gun drums for Modulok, who obviously cares more about taking the time to cultivate a certain sound for himself than jocking trends. There’s good old-fashioned throwback soul-soaked boom-bappery (“I Don’t Like U”, “Old Records, Hard Liquor”), there’s the a fore-mentioned avant-garde excellence of Just Not Cool Anymore with its sevdah sounds and wicked trombone solo. There’s reggae sounds (“Golden Rule”) and there’s the ominous electroclash sounds of “Native Aliens”.

There’s also pretty much everything else I ask for in a hip hop album: plenty of DJ cuts, great samples, a posse cut and a selective-yet-impressive guestlist (Wordburglar, Apollo Creed, 2MEX, D-Sisive & Pacewon(!), to name but a few faves).

Seriously, you should give this record an open-minded listen. When I complain about the Drake’s of the hip hop world, it’s this kind of record I’m looking for instead. I’m glad that folks like Modulok still care enough to pour their creativity into these kinds of songs, I just wish more folks cared enough to seek them out.

Modulok – Just Not Cool Anymore