Earlier this month, Simon Dominic (also known as Simon D) returned with No Open Flames, his second solo EP under AOMG after Won & Only, and his fourth solo release overall.

Despite having been in the Korean hip-hop industry for a decade—Simon Dand E-Sens debuted as duo Supreme Team in 2009—Simon D has a dearth of solo releases. Simon D chooses, for the most part, to maintain a hiatus between releases, rather than continuously release singles later compiled in an album à la labelmate Jay Park.

After the aural and lyrical masterpiece that was last year’s Darkroom: Roommates Only, it was exciting to see what Simon D had to offer. Darkroom was an honest and heartbreaking retelling of depression; would No Open Flames be the story of growing and healing then? However, it seems that Simon D has regressed to the same cliched hip-hop tropes that make many a fan both nod their head alongside the beat and shake it in disappointment.

No Open Flames consists of 7 tracks, all produced by GooseBumps instead of frequent collaborator Gray. GooseBumps’ array of beats range from tropical trap (“Make Her Dance”) and crunk trap (“Y’all Ain’t Gang”) to minimalist trap (“Dax4,” “GOTT,” “Pose!”) and piano-tinged trap (“Room Type”). Simon D does much of the same with his lyrics. With the exception of the instrumental intro, No Open Flames consists of Simon D cycling through the same exhausted themes of amassing money, angering his haters, and attracting attention from women.

The only string linking Darkroom to No Open Flames is the song “Room Type,” where Simon D admits that despite buying a British King bed, he has trouble sleeping at night.

For the most part, however, Simon D overlooks talking about his pain for boasting and bravado about his ever-increasing assets and acquisitions. This is especially clear in his verse in “Pose!”:

Receive 40K for 8 bars of feat.
3 commercial ads since Darkroom, another one yesterday
Yeah, my worth’s increased by 200K
Compared to the past, I’m worth like a boss
New new Balanciaga
Look at my Patek Philippe
I said it over and over again
Make the most of it while you can
Give back as much as you’ve been loved baby, next up is Birkin bag
Donate 25K boom, that’s a given, multi-flex

What is truly disappointing about No Open Flames is not its commercial sound, but the fact that the way its sound is packaged makes it stale and lacking in artistry. Simon D, on numerous occasions, has proven his ability to weave metaphors, double entendres, and punchlines into his lyrics. He is also equally capable of wavering between flows and wowing listeners with his delivery. Yet, this EP is completely stripped of his clever wordplay, and neither his confident delivery nor his chameleon-esque flow can redeem it.

In fact, on several occasions, the very artists featuring on Simon D’s songs upstage him. Both Woo‘s and Jvcky Wai‘s verses in “GOTT” are far more memorable than Simon D, while Crush, who is better known as a singer than a rapper, steals the show in “Make Her Dance.” Simon D manages to maintain the upper hand in “Ya Ain’t Gang,” featuring JayAllDay & Simo of Y2K92, and “Pose!” featuring Yumdda, but barely.

Simon D hints in “Dax4” that he is reverting to these true-and-tired tropes because he receives criticism no matter what type of music he makes, so he might as well be commercially successful.

I’mma keep callin’ for money in my lyrics from now on
Maybe this is who I’ve always wanted to be
Since I always get criticism and praise together at once
I’mma have a threesome with these both bitches

Simon Dominic also states in GOTT that the public says he is “the best when [he’s] a stuck-up,” which hints that he might just be intentionally over-exaggerating this image because it is what the public wants. However, these hints are so few and far between that No Open Flames becomes the definition of the sound it might be satirizing.

In the end, I do not begrudge Simon D for this album, but I do wish that he had infused more wit and wordplay into it. I refuse to believe that this bragging and bravado is all there is to him as an artist. Simon D chose an apt album title with No Open Flames because none of the songs on this album are fire in the first place.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5]. Images via AOMG Entertainment)