Footnotes In ‘The Diary’

Austin Steele is breaking the seal of his own mind and letting his innermost feelings grace his records.

The thoughts you keep in your head are begging to get out. When something traumatic happens in your life, especially during your childhood, it may be suggested to keep a written record of how you feel. If you can’t tell others, sometimes keeping a journal is the best way to share it with the only person who will truly understand: you. Austin Steele, a 23-year-old rapper, is breaking the seal of his own mind and letting his innermost feelings grace his records.

The Diary was released in November 2019, hailing as the second full-length project by the Queens-bred recording artist. It’s 23-minutes-long, with a depth of only six songs, but chock-full of more emotions than one may recognize. Production on the tape varies with almost every track, but the final mixing and mastering was done by Karsh, a close friend of Steele. The two also worked together on the rapper’s first project, Vibes, released in 2018. According to Steele, The Diary was recorded in about a week. 

Like the name of the EP suggests, The Diary takes listeners through the ups and downs of life in general. “I want to take you through different emotions while we travel through the project,” Steele revealed.
He reels us in with the first song, “All The Way Down,” produced by TellingBeatzz. Steele sets the bar low with his own vibrations. The chorus samples the opening lines of Glen Hansard’s song of the same name. “You have broken me, all the way down / Down upon my knees,” hits at multiple instances in Steele’s rendition. To bridge the gap, he highlights instances from his own life where he was at one of his lowest points. A noteworthy instance would be where Steele says, “Things start getting funny, when the kid come up and get some money / But it’s well deserved, ‘cause I’m broke as fuck, and life in a hard place got me stuck.” We’ve all been there, and while others are not proud to admit it, Steele finds no shame in his life experiences. “I was broke, I was angry and I was really depressed after Vibes and the reaction it got.”

Photo by Curtis Ashley / Hangtime Magazine.

“By Your Side,” produced by TheRealAge, cements the shift in emotions Steele wants us to experience while combing through The Diary. After walking us through his interpretation of the harsh realities of the U.S. prison system on “A Boy Named…,” the third track of the EP shifts from the depression phase into that of “love.” “So now where do we go from here? Why should I think your love is rare? / My mother’s fault when she trusted men, now she regrets days in the den,” are heavy words slipped to us by Steele. Though the focus is on love now, there is no moment to rejoice. He continues to show us the complexities of life by refusing to portray love in the practical sense. Instead, we are forced to reflect upon where the idea of love rears its face in our own lives and come to the conclusion of whether or not love is real. “My music is always self-reflective, so even if it’s not directly about me, it always somehow relates to me. These are all things that are related to me, because these are questions I want to know the answers to.”

As life would have it, and one’s journal may reflect, love is fleeting. Steele incorporates this sentiment in The Diary with the creation and placement of “I.” The beat, provided by Kris Ja’Lon, moved Steele. “I loved the beat. It made me feel emotional. So I didn’t want to do too much to it.” He doesn’t do much in the chorus at least, repeating the words, “I… I, don’t know / And I… I need you now.” Subscribing to his deferral from heavy-handedness on the song, these lyrics are the easiest indication of the shift in the mood in the EP once again. They also have the listener looking inwards again, subconsciously. Steele comes to terms with the fact that he is alone, seeking the help of a foreign entity. You are forced to do the same, as you have been throughout this emotional rollercoaster of a mixtape.

The final song of the tape, “Hold Your Head,” is the high-note anyone listening to the song has hoped for. The beat supplied by BigBoyTraks is one of the more uplifting, soulful beats of the project. Steele matches that with the elevating remarks he mixes in, such as, “You are brave, because you’ve come this far when so many before you have caved / And you could still be the man you always wanted to be, I know you lost your father, son, but you ain’t far from the tree.” The good vibes exuding from those bars help contrast Steele’s murky depiction of all the pressures and constraints that life has in store for the everyday person. 

The verse that follows is based on an actual conversation between a college peer and himself. “I told her that her nigga’s a joke, ‘cause if he couldn’t see her beauty then his eyes are broke / She couldn’t agree, she didn’t see what I see, no matter how many times I told her, she would tell me to flee.” The dark times that Steele walked us through turn up for a moment, as his unnamed colleague fails to see her own beauty. However, he is determined to leave both his friend and the listener in good spirits. He does this with a couple lines not much later in the song, “But even if we can’t be together, you know my heart with you, and hold your head how the baddest bitch would do.”

The Diary is worth the listen and Austin Steele definitely deserves more lent ears. By the time you catch up on his released work, you shouldn’t be far off from getting your next dose of Steele. “I’m working on Vibes 2 right now. It’s a big ass mixtape. I wrote mad songs for it, so now I’m trying to cut shit down.” Until then, head to his Spotify to get deep in the state of mind of this New York talent.

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