Last week, Oakland-based rapper Heno. dropped his prodding LP Death Ain’t That Bad, which contemplates mortality from a perspective rarely considered in this day and age—particularly within the live-fast-die-young realm of rap. From the aggressive, genre-blending, and generally unique opener and debut single “Blackstarrr” onward, the record’s fourteen tracks contemplate death as the only certainty in life, and therefore a subject less worthy of concern than those we have control over.
The theme of death hangs heavy over the LP, though not nearly as heavily as you may expect. “Life’s too short to be worried about why you’re life’s too short” is—spoiler alert—the conclusive statement of the album, sung by vocalist Bianca Brown on the record’s closer, while mid-album tracks like “Existential Crisis” feature an unlikely source for a rap brag. Like life itself, each new song feels like an unexpected left turn, balancing soothing soul instrumentals with fast-talking rap.
With the record out now, Heno. took the time to share some of the music he’s been listening to leading up to the conclusion of DATB’s album cycle, honing in on the Black voices at the forefront of the rap scene. From experimental peers like JPEGMAFIA (who co-produced a track on the album, and who featured Heno. on a verse a while back) and MAVI, to more mainstream names like Freddie Gibbs and Vic Mensa, to scene staples like Chicago emcees Noname and Ric Wilson, hear his playlist below.