R. City have had a career largely based behind the scenes up to this point. After initially trying and failing to release an album in 2009, brothers Theron “Uptown AP” and Timothy “A.I.” Thomas released a few mixtapes, but spent most of their energy writing and producing for other artists, having a hand in songs such as Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop and Rihanna’s Pour It Up, among a myriad of others. It’s only now that they’ve finally had the chance to release their own legitimate debut album, What Dreams Are Made Of.
Looking at it in its entirety, it’s a strange beast of an album, and a bit of a mixed bag. Its front half is packed with reggae fusion tracks, mixing reggae rhythms with hip-hop arrangements and rapped verses with pop-style vocal choruses. The marching beat of Broadway is infectious, with minimal reggae influences and a strong hook consisting of scat vocals. Chloe Angelides’ pop chorus on Make Up is another defining moment in this first half, with her vocals being a perfect mix for the song.
The most polarising song of this half is easily Over, which relies on a heavy sampling of It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over by Lenny Kravitz, to the point that the sampled instrumental becomes the highlight of the track rather than the rapping or vocals of the band members. It’s an interesting idea with poor execution. The remaining songs on the first half lack anything special, with Locked Away in particular suffering due to the admittedly strong, but entirely unfitting vocals of Adam Levine.
The second half, however, is the album’s stronger point; not entirely successful, but more enjoyable. The reggae elements are toned down, and instead more of a focus is placed on hip-hop beats and even an acoustic arrangement on Save My Soul; styles that tend to suit the Thomas brothers much better. The highest point, however, is also its most unconventional. Our Story is a ten minute monster of a track, moving between spoken word sections, rhythmic rap verses and pop hook choruses as the Thomas brothers recount their lives and career leading up to the release of What Dreams Are Made Of. It’s long and verges on being a struggle to finish, but it also helps to define the album.
It’s still hard to shake the uneven feeling that the album has, and in turn this is what makes it slightly less enjoyable. That it hinges entirely on such an unconventional track is a little strange; had it not been present, the album would have felt completely different. The emotion and context Our Story provides can make you see the album in an entirely new light, but it doesn’t cover the flaws of the package either. What Dreams Are Made Of has a lot to offer, some of a quality comparable to their past hits and some not so much; some experiments didn’t work out, yet others were unexpectedly impressive. It’s not a perfect album by any means, but it’s still one hundred percent real.