What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “forever”? To me it’s one of those concepts that delicately teeters between the positive and the negative. Forever can be agonizing–being perpetually stuck in some unchanging routine for all eternity. But, it can also be exceptionally pleasant, like thinking of a true love that you spend forever with, or fame–being an artist or politician whose memory lives on indefinitely.

To Durham, North Carolina rapper Alex Aff, it was this idea of perpetuity and ceaseless influence that inspired his latest project, Forever. The 17-track offering is a raw, honest peek into the life of young emcee trying to build his sound from the ground up, literally. Alex produced 16 out of 17 tracks on the project, spending his days sorting through possible samples and carefully crafting beats. When I asked him what his inspiration was, he explained to me that his concept of foreverness represents where he’s at in his career right now, as well as where he wants to go in the future:

“The idea of Forever is not the most intricate, but for me it made perfect sense for where I’m at with my career. My goal isn’t to make one hit record and rise to stardom. That’s not necessarily how I want to get in the game. I want to put some real time in to get this. “

Alex accomplished his goal and then some. Forever is one of those albums that doesn’t have a clear-cut single or ‘hit.’ Instead, the more I listen, the more I struggle to choose a favorite track or even narrow it down to two or three. I’ve found that many new rappers these days will do exactly what Alex is trying not to do: make a hit song, rise to fame, and then swiftly fall back into the shadows as the guy who did “that one song, you know, the catchy one with the dance?”

For that reason, Forever is a huge breath of fresh air. You can feel the energy and dedication that was put into each track, from the gorgeously haunting piano instrumental on the intro track to the looping vocal samples and commanding beats of the closing title track. The production on every song is intriguing and lively, drawing you in with familiar old-school hip-hop vibes that make it especially easy to jam along with. Yet, however recognizable the underlying sound may be, it’s also exceptionally unique; little things like the delicate guitar riffs in “Understand” and “The Game” or the soulful samples in “Infamous” and “Dreams” add bits of Alex’s personal flair to each track without overdoing anything. Even his use of autotune is exquisite. Rather than relying on the overused vocal distortion as a crutch, his perfectly scarce placement throughout tracks like “Vibes” and “Waterfall” adds incredible depth. He pulls the soundscape apart layer by layer, placing pieces of his soul between each snare beat and bassline as if he’s creating a scavenger hunt for the listener, every little bit of himself a clue to finding the overall message.

By using classic inspired production that isn’t too flashy or over the top, Alex manages to place immense focus on his meaningful and expressive lyrics. His delivery is packed full of honest emotion and his stories are authentic and truly hit home. He spits a narrative for the “quiet dreamer posted up in the background, trying to find their own meaning to life.” He spills anecdotes of growing and attempting to find a purpose, trying to make your mark on the world and figuring out what you’re going to leave behind to inspire people long after you’re gone. Teaching lessons that sometimes quieter is louder and that your life’s timeline doesn’t have to line up with what’s considered typical or normal. His unique flow is beautifully dactylic, his confidence commands your attention while each line still contains an air of softness that’s utterly poetic. While every track is, without a doubt, catchy as fuck, he isn’t just throwing in some “fuck bitches get money”-esque hook to get people interested. Each song tells a story and if you take the time to listen, the eloquence with which he reiterates tales and struggles of his past and present are mind-blowing.

Endless, eternally, incessantly, always; there are many words in the English language to describe forever. For many of us, the idea of forever is just that – an idea, not something that can be tangibly grasped as a discrete entity. For Alex Aff, Forever is so much more than that. It’s a motivation, a goal and a dream that inspired one of the best projects I’ve heard in a long time.