The mantra, “more money, more problems,” succinctly describes the tribulations of newfound fame and wealth. Success is perceived as the panacea to whoever enjoys its fruits. However, personal problems never subside. More often than not, they increase in tandem with one’s achievements. Mavi is no stranger to this. The Charlotte native has seen steady growth since the release of his 2019 project, Let the Sun Talk. Known for its chopped-up, loopy, sample-based production, Mavi firmly entrenched himself within a scene consisting of underground staples like Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE. But growth begets pain and reinvention, themes discussed and reinforced throughout his latest project, Laughing so Hard, it Hurts. Mellow, percussive, and chord-driven production marks a sonic deviation for Mavi, but provides a close-knit sonic palette throughout. Topically, he details his trials with addiction, loss, and perpetual adaptation, experimenting with more melodic flows in the process.
The album’s opener, “High John,” thrives in its introspection, with Mavi reflecting on the ups and downs of his career. Wulf Morpheus lays down an assortment of chic pianos and swung drums while Mavi oscillates between casual boasts and earnest reflection. Most notably, he describes how he feels undermined despite his success. The three years between Let the Sun Talk, and Laughing so Hard, it Hurts is a critical context for the album. Despite dropping a stellar EP in 2021, Mavi grapples with feelings of being forgotten or cast aside. He cleverly says, “money got bigger, but my problems never shrunk down to size / they was just feeling it but then the sun had shrunk out the sky.” Mavi feels as though the same sun that spoke proudly in 2019 has lost its voice, adding an additional layer of stress, anguish, and drive to the project’s already complex emotional offerings.
“Doves,” sees Mavi calmly flowing over uptempo, neo-soul production courtesy of Dylvinci. His delivery is subdued and intimate, complementing feelings of detachment and anxiety expressed in the verse. He discusses his close encounters with death, saying, “I done took a couple trips across the Styx, it wasn’t my turn.”
Utilizing the Styx as a metaphor for death reinforces the project’s emotional vacillation. As the bridge to the Underworld, the Styx is one of the lowest troughs a mortal can encounter. However, Mavi also says he’s been “flying high above for years,” to the point where his wings hurt. These rapid fluctuations have taken a toll on Mavi, forcing him to seek balance.
Near the halfway point of the album, Mavi discusses past relationships. On “3 Left Feet,” he uses a brief, clumsy dance as a metaphor for one of his former flames. Despite their affinity for each other, Mavi and his love interest could never get into sync. Over glittering production courtesy of Jacob Rochester, the track concludes with Mavi asking, “would you still dance with me?”
The following track, “My Good Ghosts,” is not as romantically driven as its predecessor, exploring Mavi’s longing for a lost friend instead. CoffeeBlack interweaves sporadic vocal chops and warm guitar chords with Mavi’s laidback delivery, accentuated by a calculated offering of vocal harmonies.
Clocking in at less than a minute long, “Known Unknowns” balances its brevity with its density, conveying the feelings of uncertainty associated with new romantic interests. The following track, “Trip,” serves as a full circle moment, with Mavi and Amindi describing what it’s like to move on from a relationship. The album’s penultimate track, “Chinese Finger Trap,” is its most tragic, describing Mavi’s battles with addiction, grief, and loneliness. His descriptions are genuinely heart-wrenching, forging feelings of hopelessness and claustrophobia analogous to a literal Chinese finger trap.
Laughing so Hard, it Hurts perfectly encapsulates its title throughout. The production is pleasant and contemplative, kindred to a bright, sunny day. The steady diet of jazzy piano chords and groovy, lofi drum patterns provide just enough space for Mavi’s melancholy musings. Even when he describes joyous moments, like overcoming addiction, finding love, or being able to give his mom money, there is a tinge of sadness. Solving these problems only presents new problems, so why try at all? Although this is a tempting way to interpret this project, Mavi does not encourage or tolerate despair. He seeks balance. When you fly so high for so long, returning back to equilibrium can be a lonely, jarring affair. You may overcorrect. Nonetheless, these are not reasons to give up hope. Rather, these are reasons to keep trying.
Stream Laughing so Hard, it Hurts below.