Written by Aidan Werder
The modern music landscape and the melodic, instrumental, and introspective direction of hip hop today has largely been shaped by a handful of culture-pushing innovators. There is a certain type of high-concept artist – usually shrouded in an air of mystery – that manages to capture the voice of a generation, pushing the boundaries of what’s accepted sonically and socially, both in hip hop and in the culture in general. Names that come to mind are beloved legendary figures like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Juice WRLD, XXXTentacion.
“Every now and then you hear a song for the very first time and you really really love it. You recognize it’s adding massive value to your life. This is one of those songs. ‘Rapture’ by David Wolves…”– Zane Lowe
For some it’s “Touring Test,” for him it was “Rapture.” For me, it was “Kids” that reached out of the speaker and grabbed me, immediately convinced that I was listening to something special. For others, it might be any number of songs off David Wolves’ hugely impressive, highly experimental, self-produced 15-track debut project, VIOLENT – which dropped in the summer of 2020.
You may never have heard of him, but Zane Lowe has – and so has Rolling Stone and One37pm. You’ll also find him on Spotify’s Fresh Finds: Best Of Hip Hop 2020. DJ Booth has called him “Florida’s Most Uncompromising Rapper”. Not only that, but VIOLENT was created with the help of a host of high-caliber, secret weapons that only a select few have access to – including mixing & mastering by 4x Grammy Award-winning record producer, Anthony Killhoffer (most known for his work with Kanye West, Kid Cudi, and Rick Ross), as well as cover art by Joe Perez: a highly-esteemed visual artist who’s created some of the most iconic covers of the last decade including Nicki Minaj’s Queen and The Pink Print, Kanye’s Yeezus and Life of Pablo, 2Chainz’s breakout album B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, and Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep: Where Do We Go?
So who the hell is this kid? David Wolves is a talented 24-year old visionary artist and producer from Florida with a rare and magnetic combination of talent, vision, and confidence who dropped one of the most impressive debut projects you’ve ever heard in 2020. Originally born in Colombia before moving to the US at the age of 7 and settling in Orlando, FL – no one has ever handed him anything. David worked hard through school only to end up working dead end jobs after graduation, but he always knew he was destined for more. It was during that time that he connected with longtime friend and collaborator, producer and artist, Josh December, and the two hatched a plan to take control of their destiny. They began making music together and developing their sound, first mainly on the instrumental and production side before trying their hand at writing.
As they progressed, they developed a clear vision of what they wanted to sound like and the message they wanted to portray and decided to stop at nothing until their vision was realized – it’s no wonder that when asked to list his influences David names legendary visionaries like Steve Jobs and Quincy Jones instead of artists and musicians that have come before him. As such, David got to work putting together an all-star team and found the pieces of the puzzle they needed to paint the picture they were after – connecting with (among others) producers ReksoBlow and Denn12K, Joe Perez to tell the visual story, and Killhoffer to make sure their sound was where it needs to be. The result, one of the most impressive debut projects in recent memory.
Fan favorite tracks from VIOLENT are clearly “Rapture” and “Touring Test” – both of which have over 1M streams on Spotify with basically zero promotion. In fact, the only promotion at all that’s visible happened completely organically – with popular Youtuber, MuchDank using several tracks off VIOLENT in the outros of his hilarious interview parodies: like “Rapture” on the massively viral “NLE Choppa Can BARELY Speak English” with over 7.2M views or “Touring Test” on “Roddy Ricch being Anti-Social on LIVE Radio”.
The whole project really is a stand out project, but if one had to choose, other standout tracks from the project would be “Kids” and my personal favorite, “Flowers” – a track where he shares his hopes to be recognized for his talent and vision while he’s still here to hear it. Well David, the bouquet is growing. We’ve yet to see any visuals for VIOLENT, outside of the well-executed visualizers for “Kids” and “Rapture” – no doubt because he’s figuring out exactly how he wants to execute his vision.
On the final track of the project, “Don’t Cry” David basically calls his shot with the line “This is my Chanel Orange. I’m just keeping it Frank” – referring to the groundbreaking, award-winning debut studio album that launched Frank Ocean into the stratosphere with a conspicuously familiar cover design. In much the same way, on each and every carefully crafted song on VIOLENT, we hear the 24-year-old from Florida display a number of unique and captivating qualities that come together to create something closer to a masterpiece than a young artist’s first official release.
The rich arrangement and confident delivery of his haunting vocals over dynamic self-produced instrumental production and entrancing, crescendoing melodies while tapping into the existential anxiety and frenetic, dark energy of the rising generation growing up in the 21st century – that many have attempted to describe and few have managed to successfully articulate.
The soundscape of VIOLENT is an ethereal mix of a wide range of rich synths and instrumental drums overlaid with simple yet powerful melodies – ones that seem to be picking up on the thread left behind by innovators like Kid Cudi’s ‘Man on The Moon’ or Kanye West (specifically ‘MBDTF – Yeezus – Pablo’ – era Ye). Particularly channeling the unique ways Cudi and Kanye use their voice as instruments – a la the ‘Cudi’ hum or ‘Runaway’ Kanye. Many have tried to pick up where these cultural giants have left off, but only a select few artists of the new generation have managed to tap into the same energy that made artists like Cudi and Kanye so resonant. Young culture pushers like Juice WRLD and XXXTentacion come to mind… and David Wolves is making a strong case for a late addition.
One thing all these artists have in common is that they make their listeners feel heard. Whether you’re an angsty teen mad at the world, a young adult trying to find their way, or some kind of outsider looking in – this project is for you.
As a proud immigrant from Medellin, Colombia, having traveled with his family to Florida at just 7 years old, David knows what it’s like to only have yourself to rely on – and there are countless people and families out there just like him who are sure to see themselves in his work. Throughout the album, David alludes to the journey that brought him to the US and calls out to those out there who might being going through a similar struggle – or any struggle for that matter – with the line on “No Exit”: “The fire never dies. Immigrant for life”. On “Reality” feat. Josh December, we actually hear him speak directly to his family still in Colombia, letting him know he sees them and even calling them out by name.
Beyond his reflections on the immigrant experience, David brilliantly captures the broader American experience in perhaps only the way someone not native has the clarity of vision to see and articulate. Concepts like the lie of the American Dream, the soul-crushing feeling of being a cog in a machine, the persistent nagging doubts, and the obvious disconnect that kids sense between what they’re told by adults and what they experience and know to be true in the world around them. A sentiment captured on tracks like LSD with lines like “Living for Fridays is making me hungry.”
On the track “Antarctica,” instead of lyrics we hear an actual conversation between David and his pops about finding his own way – a conversation that many teenagers and twenty-somethings are having these days (or more likely avoiding). “I don’t want you to leave, I just want you to do something… “At some point I’ve got to kick you out the next – sometimes that’s the only way you can fly on your own.”
While at times the album may feel like it paints a bleak picture, in the end it leaves listeners with a uniquely and poignantly empowering message summed up by the line from “No Exit”: “Hell is what you make it. Heaven’s for the taking.” – a concept echoed in his Twitter bio: “The only way I don’t get to my destination is if I quit myself.”
“All of you kids, better grow up. Some of you won’t. Some will die young.”– David Wolves, “Kids”
The world is fucked up, you have been lied to about what you can reasonably expect from life in America, and despite those facts there are people out there every day still triumphing and realizing their dreams. An idea that is both beautiful and daunting. The scary part is that no one’s coming to save you. That isn’t meant to be a critique or a threat – it’s just a fact. The beautiful part of the message is it means that your fate is in your own hands. For me, the feeling I walk away with after to listening VIOLENT is empowered. The only control we really have is over what role we choose to play in our own lives. David Wolves takes the power away from the big scary invisible forces that surround us all – financial systems, immigration, corporate structures, family expectations – and he puts it back in the listener’s hand. What to do from there, the choice is yours.
To sum it up, few projects have spoken to me and stood out quite like VIOLENT by David Wolves. From the first listen, the project feels completely unique and fresh and of the moment, and yet still feels warmly familiar – like an old friend. I challenge you to listen to the project and not be blown away.
If you somehow still aren’t convinced, just wait and see what David Wolves has up his sleeves next. Check out the visualizer for “Kids” and “Rapture” above – and check out the rest of VIOLENT below. You won’t be disappointed.