Adonis and VHS’s “Victoria” Is a Grounded Celebration Of Success And The Hustle Required To Achieve It

On one of hip-hop’s most celebrated born days, West Coast assassins Adonis and VHS teamed up to release “Victoria”, a six track project packed with soul-nourishing loops and tight rhymes. Inspired by the Mexican heritage that VHS so proudly wears on his sleeve, the short (but sweet) record is equal parts a hopeful look to the future and a testament to the work put in to reach the present. Featuring a diverse but highly selective cast of emcees recruited from across the country, the record simultaneously functions as both artists’ first full offering of the year and a unique sonic rendering of a Los Angeles few outside the city truly know.

It’s fitting that the first words on the album come not from the emcee, but from a woman reciting a soulful rendition of the Oración A San Miguel Arcángel, a Catholic prayer asking for protection against the Devil’s nefarious influence upon oneself. Both artists spent their formative years in the Los Angeles area, and their upbringing heavily influences the content of the record. Growing up in 2000s-era Long Beach, Adonis experienced a childhood filled with very real violence at an age when most kids are still pretending to shoot at each other playing cops and robbers. From deadly beefs between local latin and black gangs to watching his friend be murdered right in front of him, he was forced to mature and grow up much earlier than any child deserves to.

Rather than be broken by his environment though, Adonis uses his experiences as motivation not just for himself but for others, hoping for a future that can be filled with coming together rather than funerals. “I want black and brown unity/ I wanna see less eulogies/ More opportunities for you and me/ Success stories for you to see/ Visions for the youth what they could grow to be,” pleads Adonis with the very first bars he utters on La Promesa, a track that is part prayer and part reflection on the long and difficult road taken to arrive at his current position. He looks upon his past with a wisdom that can only come from struggle, while acknowledging the less palatable things aspects that life and circumstances led to (“Forgive me for my sins and the pain I inflicted/ The dope that I sold will you still save my soul?”).

Still, between darker stories of beefs and hustles gone wrong, Adonis manages to inject an air of accomplishment and positivity into the record. Be it an ode to a female companion alongside the serenading vocals of New York’s own Tru Star on Sucio or flexing his ability to flip anything that comes to him in practically every verse, he reminds listeners that all is not yet lost. Loss and pain drive him forward, ever striving towards an improved existence rather than being shackled by the entrapments that have shackled so many before him. Circumstances may have bent the young emcee, but they sure as hell haven’t broken him.

Adonis also pulls no punches in calling out the fake trappers and internet thugs who use the very situations plaguing many of America’s communities to further their own careers. “What you want, likes? What he want, clout?” he pointedly asks on Trabajo, a Bubu the Prince-laced joint that functions as a tale of the efforts undertaken by Adonis on his road to self-determination. While by no means encouraging others to follow in his footsteps, the track nonetheless calls out those who front without putting the work in. Building on this theme Houston’s Tedy Andreas comes with some of the most insightful bars on the whole record on his verse on Los Cena, simultaneously decrying the plethora of fake gangsters occupying the modern hip-hop soundscape and those that act aggressively simply because of the set they rep (“Y’all think its fashion to bang colors ‘til real Gs run up, all you see is colors cause ya brain malfunction”).

All the while, Adonis’s raps are garnished with VHS’s sample-laden beats ranging from traditional Mexican string patterns to vocals samples from iconic latin artists like Daniel Santos. Reminiscent of the music you’d hear coming from the speakers of your local barber shop frequented by older hispanic men, a distinct air of nostalgia and fills the air with each new loop. Ranging from jazzy brass cuts to bare-bones guitar riffs, each instrumental perfectly complements the tone of Adonis’s raps. Slowing down on releases after a whirlwind 2018 that saw three projects in the span of six months, “Victoria” represents not only VHS’s first project of the year but perhaps his most focused beatmaking offering to date.

Combining Adonis’s street-learned wisdoms with at times somber, at times buoyant samples curated by VHS, the record is unapologetically LA in a way that few West Coast records are these days. Amidst the poverty, gentrification, crime, and general sense of hopelessness that plagues many of the region’s (and indeed the country’s) communities, “Victoria” chooses to instead look to the future with thoughts of hope while celebrating the roots that have shaped not only the artists, but the city itself.

Victory, it concludes, is achievable for all. All that is required is to push forward whilst remembering and paying dues to the conditions that have shaped who you are in the present.

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