Traff the Wiz’s latest album, Griper, opens with the soulful sound of Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger,” an easygoing way to begin the Missoula hip-hop artist’s comeback album. It’s been four years since Traff, aka Brian O’Neill, released the slightly poppy These Things Take Time with producer Shmed Maynes, but with references like, “finally alive, gettin’ live-r,” it seems like this return is less about time passed and more about a personal journey.
Griper begins with straightforward beats and rhyming, then picks up a quarter of the way through with choppier and more complex phrasing. But it’s Traff’s creative lyrics that outshine everything else. They’re sassy and funny, like in “Breaking News” where he says, “You think you’re me but you’re not, though. That’s like trying to paint Picassos like Pablo/at a rock show/in Vermont snow/runnin’ audio with Trey Anastasio tellin’ you pronto/snot-nosed microphone-less trombones and bongos/until you’re Hunter S. Thompson: gone-zo.” Griper’s strongest tracks are “Martini,” “Wizard Proof,” “Circuits” and “Native Tongue,” most of which feature biting lyrics and some references to Trump and blind nationalism. It’s an album that emits the same general rage and anxiety 2017 has created for so many people, but with a comeback tone that adds a note of optimism.