Emma Beko creates an eclectic mix of sounds that defy categorization. Hailing from Montreal, Beko launched her solo career in the middle of the pandemic after leaving the acclaimed genre-bending hip-hop duo, Heartstreets. Since then, she has released two solo projects. Her most recent is an efficient, 6 track EP called Digital Damage. Unlike most artists, she doesn’t need decadent production on a 20-track, hour-long album to deliver a meaningful message. She covers a breadth of personal themes that resonate deeply with her audience in just 18 minutes.
The only problem with her music is that on streaming services, she is defined as a hip-hop artist, even though her music is tangential to hip-hop at best. On her latest project, her musical style feels like a mix of electronic and alternative spoken word poetry. She is more like a dystopian, futuristic lovechild of The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana than a rap artist.
Beko draws listeners in right away with her title track, featuring Da-P. Over a simplistic, tumbling drumbeat and laid-back guitar riff, she reflects on the struggle of what it means to feel emotionally connected in a digitally dominated culture.
During “sadguitar_777.wav”, she uses, well, a sad guitar loop to talk about her struggles with self-esteem and morality, saying “I never feel adequate/ imposter in action.” Her writing is filled with abstract allegory, eventually diving into not just her personal struggles, but our collective struggle of reconciling with the superficiality of our own achievements.
The first time she showcases her vocal mastery is on the hook of this track. Her exceptional timbre is reminiscent of Blondie’s Debbie Harry in her prime. The uplifting tone of Beko’s voice is coupled with an underlying desperation, a beautiful dichotomy that very few artists are capable of conveying.
For the back half of the album, she shifts from alternative into a more electronically inclined sound. Her beats still include some guitar, but tend to rely more on garage band kicks and snares than traditional alternative drums. Her poetry shifts as well, as she begins to discuss her struggles with drug abuse, growing up, and the traumas of past relationships.
“Triple Exes (feat. Beau Geste)” is the strongest collective showcase of her talents on the EP. Her verses are by far the most rhythmic on this track. She spits fast paced triplet bars with the effortless speed of the Migos, while still maintaining her musical and lyrical originality.
Though her writing is compelling, she doesn’t seem to experiment with her sound on this project. She relies on sparse, melancholic guitar coupled with electronic drum effects to support her storytelling. While her production could use some variation, her voice is passionate and conveys genuine emotion, both when she is singing and reciting her verses.
Emma Beko has a lot of potential, and this EP proves that she values quality over quantity. Her lyrics are so dense they border on philosophical ruminations, but her production lacks diversity. If she continues to rely on similar beats from project to project, she will run the risk of becoming musically monolithic. Rather than continuously blending traditional alternative and electronic beats, it would be nice to see her lean into one or the other, or even shift into an entirely new genre on her next project. She has the lyrical ability to become a culturally impactful artist that transcends convention. Her music is unapologetically unique, and it will be interesting to see how her sound progresses.