Written by Aidan Werder
1) Rowdy Rebel
Last week was apparently the week to drop for rising New York artists. We got much needed projects from some of the rising stars in NY hip hop, including J.I, Sheff G, and Smoove’l – not to mention Conway’s FKTG (Deluxe), another beef-squashing collab between Jim Jones and French Montana, Flee Lord’s unbelievable 12th album of 2020, as well as a rare single from the young drill legend, Coach Da Ghost.
Normally all that new music would be news in itself, but there was another release that eclipsed all others – the release of GS9’s Rowdy Rebel after six-plus years in Collins Correctional Facility. Rowdy was initially arrested in December of 2014 alongside fellow GS9 artist, Bobby Shmurda – the same year the group soared to unprecedented heights with the unbelievably viral smash hits like “Shmoney Dance,” “Bobby B*tch,” and the infamous “Hot N***a” – and in 2016 was sentenced to 6 years after pleading guilty to two lesser charges after Bobby famously took more time in order to reduce Rowdy’s sentence. Last week, following a successful parole hearing, Rowdy was released early under community supervision – touching freedom for the first time since 2016… in spectacular fashion to say the least.
Since the moment he walked out the doors of the reception center, he’s been living through what must be an overwhelming whirlwind of welcome homes, private jets, studio sessions, celebrity shout outs, studio sessions, stacks of cash, and lots and lots of big, iced jewelry… including a brand new custom piece from Eric the Jeweler, depicting Rowdy as an iced out zombie in intricate detail.
The return of Rowdy Rebel – and the implication that we’ll be seeing Bobby Shmurda sometime in 2021 – is significant for lots of reasons. Not only will two talented young men no longer be behind bars, but Rowdy, Bobby, and GS9 have come to hold an important place in the New York hip hop culture, widely thought to have sewn the seeds back in 2014 for what we know now as Brooklyn drill. Hear more from the man himself in his first post-prison interview with Complex’s Speedy Morman.
Despite having seen Rowdy in countless studio sessions all over social media all week – including one with producer Corey Cutz (@coreycutz_) shot by Visionary Vision photographer & videographer OneTake (pics courtesy of @onetake) – we’ve only got a few snippets from social media. Below is a snippet from the verse that Rowdy laid for the album that DJ Funk Flex is very proud of himself for putting together. The clip is everything you could want from a Rowdy Rebel verse, and despite it being not-great quality snippet from Flex’s IG Live (and the clean version no less) it already has 250K+ views and climbing. We can already hear that Rowdy is in top form and we’re in for a treat when all these tracks start coming out, sooner rather than later no doubt.
J.I dropped the 3rd installment of his hugely popular ‘Hood Life Krisis’ series. It opens with “Calling Out 2 You”, a well-crafted J.I special with dynamic production that really may be one of the strongest tracks of the project. Followed by the probable fan-favorite, “R&B Shit,” an aptly titled collab with the uncontested R&B-hop king of NY, A Boogie – accompanied by a icy music video that dropped the same day. On “Letter 2 U,” “Everything,” and “What it’s Like” we hear J.I explore some different styles of production, applying his signature style while showing his growth with some pretty mature songwriting skills. “Sufficiente” is a really successful english-spanish hybrid track with a spanish hook and intro, combined with english verses to make for a feel good, signature J.I track. And closing with what was the leadoff single, “Excuse My Pain” – which we saw released in the weeks leading up. Overall, a solid project from J.I and great way to cap off the Hood Life Krisis trilogy – appropriately displaying his growth as a person and artist, playing to his strengths while also showing some versatility.
The young goat delivers. The 11-track project, titled “Proud Of Me Now” almost as a challenge to the haters not to like his iconic sound and undeniable vocals features a few tracks we’ve heard already, like “Tip Toe” and “Eeny Meany Miny Moe,” as well as “Lights On” and “No Negotations” which released earlier this month during the the lead up – basically all of which are hits in their own right already. One of the standout tracks, “Mistakes” came with a cinematic music video directed by Nimi Hendrix (co-directed by Winners Circle head, Jerm Cohen), that shows just how far Sheff and self-declared little big bro Sleepy have come; depicting the pair as youngins growing up in Flatbush side-by-side with them today decked out in huge diamond chains in a lavish mansion. Later in the project, we hear him exploring some especially soft tones and surprisingly touching vibes on tracks like “Shooting Star,” “Dead Broke”, and “I’ll Be There.” It’s tracks like these that really separate Sheff, Sleepy, and the Winners Circle camp apart from the rest of the pack, pushing the boundaries of hip hop while maintaining their signature style – not to mention expanding their audience far beyond the typical drill and NY hip hop listener. That, plus their secret weapon in budding super-producer, Great John Music is really making it hard for anyone to deny the strength of what appears to be the aptly named Winners Circle.
Another standout drill star, Smoove’l, dropped his debut studio album, ‘Ice Cups and Shootuts’ on Friday. The young artist from Brooklyn has had all eyes on him since attracting all kinds of label attention in 2019 with huge hits like “Big Mad” “Freedom” and the smash hit “New Apolos” – of which an updated version appears on this project – and eventually signing to Interscope. A new VladTV interview just dropped, seemingly timed with the release, where he explained the reason why the video had been taken off Youtube (and eventually put back on) – he had actually never secured the beat for the song, and it turned out to have been purchased by Travis Scott, to be used on “GATTI” featuring Pop Smoke. The album shows off Smoove’l’s versatility, with a good mix of well-executed, staple Brooklyn drill tracks as well as tracks that experiment in different styles. Elsewhere during the VladTV interview, he expressed that he is working on honing his “non-drill” songs, which he did really successfully on tracks like “Rounds” “Bae Boo Stink” “Since Way Back” and “Get Married” – utilizing softer tones, simple instrumental production, and speaking more on relationships than spinning blocks. You can also see this strategy in the selection of the lead-off singles: “Period.” being a hard-edged, bass-filled drill track, while “4 The Fashion” struck a totally different tone as more of a stripped-down, rap-rap song – not to mention two great features from Fleazi Bambino and viral Atlanta artist, Toosii. Overall, a strong showing for a debut album from a much-hyped artist from Brooklyn, who shone in the drill scene and is now developing his sound to shine beyond his borough.
One of the young legends and arguably originators of Brooklyn drill, Coach Da Ghost, dropped a rare single on Friday. “S.H.Y.N.E. Freestyle” is a high-energy, no holds barred track built around his signature “Shyne” ad-lib, reminding listeners exactly why the labels were interested in him in the first place. Coach’s flow and delivery are pretty undeniable, walking over a sample from Shyne’s self-titled classic, nicely incorporated with the drill-pattern drums and Coach’s unapologetic flow. The accompanying video, which dropped the same day, shows a packed out studio scene with cameos from fellow Culturvated artist and young drill legend, 22Gz, as well as an unexpected appearance from a certain controversial rapper. Coach is one of the centerpieces of Culturvated – an Atlantic Records imprint headed by @Vokorondon, home to some of the biggest names in Brooklyn drill including 22Gz, Bizzy Banks, and Maxthademon. Hopefully this new drop from Coach signals that we can expect more music from him, as well as the rest of the talented Culturvated roster in 2021.
Not too many artists out here can call their shots quite like Conway. Not only has he been (rightfully) shouting album of the year since the day of its release, but he’s accurately predicted his ascension to rap elite in the very title ‘From A King To A God.’ As if the original release wasn’t already enough, Conway The Machine released the Deluxe version on Friday with five additional bangers. Starting with the downright creepy “Raw Oysters” with a shoutout to Griselda-staple producer Daringer, followed by the powerful “Ameenah’s Van,” the gritty boom bap of “Crack In The Nineties.” It closes with two heaters – the surprisingly touching piano-laden “Serena vs Venus” and Conway’s self-declared favorite, minimalist masterpiece and shoutout to Buffalo Bills wide receiver “Stefon Diggs.”
Accompanying the release, we were also blessed with the music video for “Jesus Khrysis” – one of many standout tracks from the original release – featuring Conway and the Drumwork camp overseeing operations at their merch factory. During which, we’re looking at well over $200K worth of merch just like the song says… so you can consider that another shot called for The Machine.
It almost doesn’t even sound real, but Flee Lord dropped his 12th album of 2020 on Monday. Dedicated to the late legend “In The Name of Prodigy” is yet another lyrical masterpiece from the leader of the Lord Mobb. This man really put out one album for every month of 2020. He went 12 for 12 with not a throwaway in sight. Each album hits just as hard as the last, with Flee Lord’s unmistakable vocals and masterful wordplay not even once getting old. His gritty flow and raspy, weathered vocals an instrument unto themselves, on this project we see yet another full body of work filled with tight, classic production and the grimiest, densest bars you can imagine.
“In the Name of Prodigy” features almost too many New York Legends to count including Ransom, Big Twins, Busta Rhymes, Eto, Billy V, and Raekwon – not to mention certified legend-in-the-making Conway in the Machine . Flee was also able to secure really meaningful features from Sanata Fox, Prodigy’s daughter, as well a verse from Havoc, the other half of Mobb Deep to close out the record, who actually produced multiple tracks off the album.
The only question left, where does Flee Lord go from here? It seems like he must have either given us everything he’s got… or more likely he has literally an infinite amount of ammo left in the tank. Either way, he has already made an incredible mark and blessed fans of real hip hop with an ungodly amount of music. While he may not get all the recognition he deserves, Flee Lord is a true rappers’ rapper – as evidenced by the list of features and massive respect sent his way from a host of hip hop legends. Thanks for your hard work Flee Lord, making 2020 a little more bearable with nearly endless bars.