Soft Lipa might not be widely known in Taiwan's mainstream music scene on the same level as how many Mandopop stars have become household names, but he is a familiar name to practically anyone who listens to Taiwanese hip hop and rap. Best known for his chill (and often jazzy) beats and melodic flow, Soft Lipa has been releasing music since 2008. Seven years have passed between the release of his previous album, Secrets of Tu Cheng Hsi: Renovate, and his newest album Home Cooking - and although much has changed for Soft Lipa himself (he is now a father of two children), his sound is as fresh as ever.
Soft Lipa’s return to releasing music of his own had been eagerly anticipated, and if the five nominations that he has gotten from the Golden Indie Awards this year are any indicator of what people thought of it, you could say that Home Cooking has been well-received. Soft Lipa’s changes in his life (including the departure from his previous record label Kao Inc. and starting his own label, RSDR) seem to have given him the inspiration to experiment with his music, which has yielded great results. And for fans of hip hop, the little snippets of references to older hip hop songs are also fun to carefully listen for (like the subtle nod to Andre 3000’s “Forever. Forever? Forever ever. Forever ever?” from “Ms. Jackson” by OutKast, on “琴操”), which adds to the listening experience.
The tracklist is as follows:
1. 馬麻我們在玩這個 (Intro) (Mommy, We're Playing This One) *
2. 心不在焉 (Absent-Minded)
3. 姑娘 (Girl)
4. 雞公乒乓跳 (Hopping Cock)
5. 家常音樂 (Home Cooking; lit. Homemade Music)
6. 這麼大聲吧 (skit) (What A Loud Voice) *
7. 白天看腦晚上看牙 (Neurosurgical Treatment During the Day, Dental Cure at Night)
8. 等待佛陀 (Waiting for Buddha)
9. 蜘蛛 (Spider)
11. 近黃昏 (Close to Dusk)
12. 你拍我唸 (skit) (You’re Afraid of Me Reading) *
13. 無為而唱 (Naturally Singing)
14. 台南畫外音 (interlude) (Tainan Voiceover) *
15. 音菩薩 (Sound of Bodhisattva)
16. 大禹 (Yu the Great) (feat. 9m88)
18. 飽鏘之歌 (skit) *
19. Ice Ice Jelly
20. 催眠詩 (Hypnotic Poem)
21. 上律動 (On Beat)
22. 足月 (interlude) (Full-Term) *
23. 小妹小妹不要哭 (Little Girl, Little Girl Don’t Cry)
24. 午后自娛焚香操PAD (skit) *
25. 音樂小分子 (Music’s Small Molecules)
26. 重新整理 (Re-Arranging)
28. 我按的 (outro) (According to Me) *
(* indicates tracks that are available on the CD version of the album only - as a disclaimer: since I don’t live in Taiwan, I was only able to purchase the digital version of the album so any of the starred tracks will not be mentioned any further in this review.)
Oftentimes when a person has a tendency to daydream or let their mind wander, people would refer to them as someone who is absent-minded. And in this case, Soft Lipa couldn’t have created a more suitable beat to rap over a track titled “Absent-Minded”; the airy rhythm paired with Soft Lipa’s flow feels like the listener has been invited to drift along to wherever Soft Lipa’s thought process is taking him. It’s chill, but Soft Lipa’s rhymes still pack a punch in the style he is best known for. As the first non-instrumental track on Home Cooking, “Absent-Minded” is Soft Lipa’s way of telling the listeners that he has finally returned - and depending on how you interpret it, also what it’s been like for him while he’s been away.
As ILL MO mentioned previously in this article, hip-hop fans may have recognized the intro from the album’s title track as the intro from “Nas Is Like” by Nas. The song is written as if Soft Lipa is rapping to his young daughter Rhemi as he proudly tells her to invite her classmates over so they can see what they do at home and listen to their “homemade” music. He dotes on her as he says that she has grown to be even cuter and that if she invites her classmates over after school to see what she can do, they’ll definitely love her once they get to know the real her. Soft Lipa has embraced his new role in life as a father and it shines through in this song. For this reason alone, “Home Cooking” stands out not just on this album but in Soft Lipa’s entire discography, and the retro hip-hop sound makes an even stronger case for why Soft Lipa made the decision to name the song after his comeback album (or vice versa).
“Waiting for Buddha” is reminiscent of Soft Lipa’s older music, like the songs from his album Lotion. However, it’s not without a twist of its own - the introspective and slightly quirky lyrics reflect an older version of Soft Lipa, which should come as no surprise as the two albums were released eleven years apart. If you’ve ever questioned Soft Lipa’s capabilities as a rapper, one might argue that the way he recites the verses on this song are so slick that it makes this one a must-listen on Home Cooking. With “Spider” cleverly placed as the following track on the album, it demonstrates to listeners that Soft Lipa’s flow is versatile and that he doesn’t restrict himself solely to the jazzy, hip-hop beats that are part of his signature sound. When “Spider” was released first, several months before the rest of Home Cooking, it was so peculiar yet memorable that I couldn’t even imagine what the rest of the album might sound like. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that this is one of the more experimental songs on the album. It makes you feel like there’s something creeping up behind you, which is a different kind of sound for Soft Lipa; I honestly can’t think of another song that he’s released that is similar to this one.
Right from the intro of “Close to Dusk”, the listener is pulled in thanks to its fused rhythm of a Spanish guitar and just the right amount of old school hip-hop. And it’s a combination that works; just like the line in the first verse: “our relationship is just like hip-hop and Timberlands”. Although the chorus is quite simple and half of it is Soft Lipa singing “oh la la la la”, trust me when I say that there’s a high possibility that it will get stuck in your head because it’s just that catchy. “Naturally Singing” winds things down with a more laid-back feeling to it. With a lyric that focuses on simplicity like “is it possible to find a method like this that makes listening to music just that and nothing more?” - Soft Lipa’s verses flow over the beat of this track as naturally as a steady stream of water. Getting back to basics is what this one is all about.
Rising star 9m88 opens up “Yu the Great” before Soft Lipa starts to rap - in contrast to his previous album having multiple featured artists, this is the only song on the album where he isn’t the only one on the track. There’s a retro feel to it with a bouncy rhythm, and when you consider the fact that 9m88 has looked up to Soft Lipa and listened to him for years, it makes this collaboration just that much more special. When my brother listened to “On Beat”, he noted that the intro for it slightly reminded him of the intro by “Bossy” by Kelis and Too $hort. While not everyone may make the same comparison, there’s an undeniable reference to “You Remind Me” by Mary J. Blige towards the end of the song. And there’s one other thing for sure: listeners will have a hard time trying to hold back from bobbing their head along to the beat.
The hints of piano notes in “Music’s Little Molecules” ever so subtly remind me of Soft Lipa’s older songs with Japanese jazz band Jabberloop on their album Moonlight. At the same time, it gives off the kind of vibe that this might be the kind of song that Soft Lipa would perform for his young children. The lyrics let the listener see that music is where Soft Lipa’s passion is and that popularity doesn’t matter to him. He raps a complete truth that I think many people can relate to: “music is universal, and because of this music can go worldwide”. Home Cooking is rounded out with “Soft LiPAPA” as the last track Soft Lipa raps on for this album. It follows Soft Lipa as he reflects on his life, and notably remarks “how can I still be learning how to grow up” - a thought that I’m sure many listeners can relate to, regardless of their age. This reflection naturally follows his transition into fatherhood as well, with a touching clip of his daughter saying “papa” during the chorus. It’s the slowest song on the album but arguably the most sentimental of them all.
Regardless of the amount of time that he's been away, Soft Lipa hasn't missed a beat with his music. Whether you're a new fan of his or an old one, Home Cooking is an album that you shouldn't miss out on listening to.
Home Cooking is not available for streaming but you can purchase a digital copy of the album here on the RSDR website. You can follow Soft Lipa on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.