Chester Watson Fish Don't Climb Trees

Release date:
October 6, 2023
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When Chester Watson debuted in the mid-2010s with verbose, technically precise music indebted to MF DOOM, Earl Sweatshirt, and more obscure artists from the stratosphere and the blogosphere, it was as if he was simultaneously from the past and future. Before he was old enough to legally drink, there were “Best Of,” rarities compilations, and .zip files floating through the ether. Whenever industry prospectors earmarked him as the next big thing, he disappeared back underground, only to reemerge sharper, leaner, weirder. Though only 26, the St. Louis-born rapper and producer has seen enough for several lifetimes—and raps as if he’s tapped into many more. But after a few years of highs, lows, and traumatic odysseys, he was able to stare straight into the abyss and conquer it. This regained confidence is exhibited on fish don’t climb trees, the largely self-produced new album that reaffirms him as one of rap’s great auteurs. While working on ""fish"", he vowed to be more true to the emotions and experiences he’d endured. Being true to those fractured, discordant feelings requires a prismatic approach. And so you get fish’s exhilarating hairpin turns: from downtempo dub (“bora bora”) to 808s rattling through a haunted house (“tourniquet”), beats that sound as if they’re molting into new shapes in real time (the two-song suite of “daze” and “grey theory”) to ones that that plunge to the bottom of a pocket (“spirits”). The album’s title comes from the maybe-apocryphal Einstein quote, about how a fish judged by its ability to climb trees will “spend its whole life believing it is stupid.” For Watson, this meant embracing the cheery first half of the quote (“Everybody is a genius”), but also being cognizant of the dark undercurrents that flow just beneath seemingly innocent misjudgments and mis-categorizations.

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