Lex Luthoor – ‘Just A Draft’ review: an unfiltered look at the dark corners of the Bawal Clan rapper’s psyche

The Nigeria-born, Philippines-based rapper’s debut solo album is full of grit and grime

It’s been over a decade since Lex Luthoor first burst onto the Philippine hip-hop scene under his real name, Alex Omiunu, as part of the Lyrically Deranged Poets (LDP) alongside Abra and Rjay Ty. Their unique blend of memorable hooks, skillful wordplay, and radio-friendly beats were influential in the late 2000s, helping to take local hip-hop from the underground to the mainstream.

Since rechristening himself Lex Luthoor and joining Filipino rap collective Bawal Clan in 2016, Omiunu has begun to tap into a more menacing side of his persona. It shows in the grit and violence in his lyrics for Bawal Clan, and in many ways aligns with the group’s ethos of being unafraid to say what they want to say⁠ – even when it’s bawal, or taboo in Tagalog. Alex Omiunu’s lyrics were kinder and had more heart, whereas Lex Luthoor is a straight-up villain.

Luthoor’s debut solo album ‘Just A Draft’ embodies that heel turn as he embraces the darkness of his thoughts⁠ – an unsurprising mental space to be in considering the ongoing lockdowns in the Philippines brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. He says in a press release that being stuck in lockdown allowed him to finally have the time to make this solo album, adding that he “was in a very dark place; hence, why a lot of the songs are quite grimey”.

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It’s not just the songs themselves that are grimey. Luthoor’s vocals have taken on a gravelly texture, especially compared to his earlier material, adding to the album’s rougher feel overall. And the influence of UK grime on the tracks ‘Blacker Than Coal’ and ‘10 Toes Down’ are unmistakable, though it’s far from the album’s defining sound.

Bawal Clan producer Pope Fiction’s fingerprints are all over the third track, ‘WaGwan,’ which stands out with its ’90s East Coast-inspired boom-bap beat and its cadence. If there’s a song in the album that serves as Luthoor’s coming-out track, it has to be this one, which unforgettably establishes his don’t-fuck-with-me persona. Luthoor even sneaks in a clever lyrical jab at Superman, a tip of the hat to his own villainous namesake Lex Luthor.

Born in Nigeria, raised in Spain, and living in the Philippines for over 15 years, Luthoor has found home in hip-hop. He refers to Bawal Clan as his family, acknowledging them alongside his past groups LDP and Artifice Records on the track ‘Devil’s Lounge’, which features fellow LDP alum and Bawal Clan rapper Rjay Ty. He spits his verse like a machine gun firing at his haters, announcing his arrival as a fully-formed Lex Luthoor, and cementing the record’s overall message of telling people never to count him out. The chest-thumping continues on ‘Grim Reaper’, which exudes a violent machismo that could come off as hard-headed and even toxic (“Ain’t the type of n**** to tell you let’s talk about it / Even when I’m set up for failure, n****, let’s brawl about it”).

But ‘Just A Draft’ is committed to delivering a sonic journey through Lex Luthoor’s psyche, which is best captured through the duality of the song ‘Drugs & Dreams’. The Yung Bawal-produced track has a gloomy feel buoyed by a contemporary hi-hat beat and jazzy saxophone riff; it evokes strolling through the grittier alleys of Poblacion, Makati’s former red-light district, where Bawal Clan usually performed pre-pandemic. Its reprise towards the end of the album, chopped and screwed by Chef Eazy and distorted into something hazier and slower, depicts the comedown as the night turns to day.

With his debut album, Lex Luthoor takes a snapshot of his worldview and filters it through a dark side every human being has. He’s unafraid to get those thoughts out there to achieve the catharsis that we’ve all been craving through these uncertain times. This album may be called ‘Just A Draft,’ but it makes clear it introduces an evolved version of Lex Luthoor, and that he’s here to stay.

Details

Bawal Clan Lex Luthoor Just A Draft review
  • Release date: July 23
  • Record label: Independent
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