Review: G Herbo (A.K.A. Lil Herb) Brings Light To His Darkest Thoughts On ‘Ballin Like I’m Kobe’
Since his critically acclaimed breakout mixtape, Welcome To Fazoland, G Herbo b.k.a. Lil Herb has been on the frontlines, spitting the harsh realities of modern-day Chicago. Now, his long awaited follow-up Ballin Like I’m Kobe expands upon Fazoland and his last ‘tape, The Pistol P Project, and gives fans a Wire-esque view of the death-plagued and war-torn area of the Southeast Side of Chi-Town, otherwise known as “Terror Town.”
BLIK depicts Herbo’s growing pains from Lil’ rapper to changed man. “Ballin Like I’m Kobe is just a transition. The transition of me from Welcome to Fazoland, the man I became, how I mature and what I’m going through now and the situations I been through since then,” he told VIBE earlier this year.
Grown man Herbo is all about his business. BLIK serves as his most focused and poignant work to date, showing a more reflective and introspective Herbo in bars than heard before. The most obvious takeaway from Ballin is how he’s distanced himself from the destructive and self-imploding inner city violence of “Chiraq” that took the lives of his friends and family members, whether from gun violence or incarceration. Still, Herb never forgets where he came from. Listen closely to his lyrics and he speaks from a deeper place about his stomping grounds of 79th and Essex across the impoverished South Side. He captures the soul of his hood and channels it on the block repping anthem “Eastside,” which also doubles as a memorial to his late homies Jacoby Herring, Faizon Robinson, and Pistol P (who inspired the names of his previous projects). The pain from his open wounds sting especially when he spits lines like, “I’m from where young n***as turn into killers because there ain’t anything better to be.”
His values are well-articulated without being too preachy, as well. BLIK shows the 19-year-old’s growth from jump with “L’s.” He offers more honest narratives about his backstory this go-round, offering insight into his present. Soulful bangers like “Bricks and Mansions” and “Remember” successfully soundtrack his vulnerability, a rare trait among some of Chicago’s drill rappers. The beats have also improved since WTF. With the bulk of production being handled by longtime collaborators DJ L and C-Sick, BLIK maintains a somber yet gritty ambiance that meshes perfectly with Herb’s true-life bars. He even manages to slip in surprises, like his full-blown confessional “Peace of Mind” that samples Brian McKnight’s “Anytime.”
Dramatics in the melody are key, especially with songs like “Bottom of the Bottoms,” which employs a violin and carries an optimistic but sorrowful tone. He raps his way out of Cook County Jail, spitting on the hook, “From the bottom of the bottoms/There was nothing under me/Now the judge hang us with 100 years, used to hang us by a tree/I was born in the trap tryna stay up out the penitentiary/’Cause living ain’t cheap tell me how this the land of the free?” His fellow rhyme assassin, Lil Bibby, even goes H.A.M. on “Gang,” leaving listeners salivating for their rumored collaboration project. Here, the fiery Chi-Town upstarts hit pause on the sad street tales and just rip apart another DJ L beat.
Though solid in delivery, the repetition of lyrics and lack of see-what-you-did-there moments weighs it down. See: the Southside-produced “Rollin'” and the Lil Durk-assisted “Ain’t Right.” While Ballin’ Like I’m Kobe has an aura of mourning for Chicago’s lost ones, it also offers a snapshot of the same sentiments young men of color are experiencing at the hands of police brutality. Where Fazoland proved G-Herbo to be a standout in the drill set, BLIK solidifies his potential to be a rabble rouser in rap. With his new deal with Jonny Shipes’ Cinematic Music Group, the future looks bright for G Herbo, no matter how dark his past may be.—Mark Braboy (@DRD_Poetry17)