Turning 30 years old is generally a milestone that is met with equal parts celebration and stock-taking: If it doesn't carry the angst of encroaching middle age that 40 does, it tends to clarify the wild-oats-sowing of one's twenties and gives a soft restart to a more thoroughly "adult" existence.
For Preston Bradley, his 30th birthday was a chance to throw himself a little party in the form of a five-song album. Under his hip-hop alias Cue ColdBlooded, Bradley dropped the 12eleven EP not long after his birthdate (December 11, as you may have guessed). And while he's reflective about the time that has passed, ultimately he chose a joyful path and framed his songs with a celebration in mind.
"I think 30 is a big year for anybody, really," Bradley says. "There's two ways to look at it: I'm getting old and running out of time, or I did a lot of growing up in my twenties and I have that knowledge of those ups and downs." Bradley says rather than focus on the passage of time, he used the start of his third decade to focus on the road ahead. It also gave him a hard deadline to hit.
"I just wanted to release a project," Bradley says. "I just locked myself in the studio from late October — I did all the beats, did all the writing, and finished it up around the beginning of December."
The resulting EP reflects his state of positivity, something that carries over from his 2017 solo debut Yourz Truly and some of the throwback soul vibes he and Steve N. Clair have used with their long-running duo the Domino Effect. Many of the tracks on 12eleven ride on spare boom-bap beats punctuated by 808 pings, and the instrumental palette is airy and woozy. He favors a laid-back delivery as a vocalist, but the most aggressive Bradley gets on this project is the street-smart love song "My Ryder," which uses a little g-funk synthesizer swooping above his bars.
Bradley talks about striking a "celebratory tone" on the album, aiming for songs that could be played from car speakers and in the club.
"'How I Feel' is my most fun record on there — it was really fun writing that," Bradley says. "It's got a little bounce in there. I use a little more vocal range, those rap-singy type tones. I wanted to incorporate that into my own style."
But that doesn't mean that Cue ColdBlooded is blinded from occasionally donning rose-colored glasses. He remains an emcee who is fiercely loyal, to his city and his people, and his work (both with the Domino Effect and as a solo artist) takes measure of racial and social realities. On the upwardly mobile "Royalty," he notes, "Never really fit with an audience / In this world, in my skin, I'm a target." It's one of his talents as a lyricist to walk the tightrope between bravado and humility, between real-life hardships and joyful aspirations.
"I mean, I can't pinpoint anything extremely specific," Bradley says as he reflects on the inspirations for these tracks. He notes that he centered on his work with the Domino Effect and thought "a lot about how we developed as artists over time. Looking back, I hear a vast difference and improvement."
It's been since 2016's Satellites that the Domino Effect has released new music; Bradley notes that since the duo's other half, Steve N. Clair, moved to Atlanta, "there's a lot of transitioning going on right now." Still, Bradley promises a new album by the pair in 2019.
"It's bouncing back and forth, really," Bradley says of the Domino Effect's creative process and long-distance partnership. "I make a bunch of stuff and he throws his input in. It's pretty easy with us since we've been doing it so long. Me and Steve can not talk for a month and we can link up again and be right on cue. It's always gonna be like that; we're brothers."
Family matters to Bradley, so much so that 12eleven kicks off with a pair of voicemails from his parents, wishing him a happy birthday and setting the tone for the EP that follows.
"My mom was probably more nervous," Bradley says. "My dad, I get most of my musical genius from him — he was the head of the music in churches and stuff. He was in his element.
"There's no 12eleven without them," Bradley says, "and it was important to give them credit for all the support they've given me."