‘Raise the Bar’ is VIBE Hip-Hop Reporter Preezy Brown’s New Music Friday column. Each week he picks one Hip-Hop song or album that deserves your attention all weekend.
Chicago rap artists are known for the realism in their music, which ranges from introspective parables to grisly confessionals. Late rap star King Von, who was murdered in 2020 during a physical altercation in Atlanta, was a poster-child for the brand of reality rap that helped put the city back on the map, as he’s alleged to have lived out many of the gritty exploits mentioned in his music firsthand. His debut album, Welcome to O’Block, which was released just a week prior to his death, was a bittersweet success, as it was a reminder of his immense potential as an artist and storyteller.
Now, more than a year after his physical transition, Von’s team has released What It Means To Be King, his second studio album and a posthumous effort that highlights his brilliance while turning tragedy into triumph. Opening the album with “Where I’m From,” Von gets personal as he gives a summarized account of going from the prison system to a career in music. Over an instrumental from Chopsquad DJ, Von bears emotional wounds from the loss of close friends like Odee Perry, O’Block’s namesake. Coldly, Von raps, “I done lost n****s, all I got is pictures/ I don’t give no f**k, I don’t got no feelings.”
Littered with guest appearances, What It Means To Be King is a mixed-bag in terms of its pairings, with G Herbo putting forth a subpar showing on the Hitmaka and Romano produced “Facetime,” nearly squandering an otherwise stellar performance by Von, who takes a swipe at O’Block arch-nemesis 6ix9ine (“If I get caught I do the time/ I am not 6ix9ine”).
Initially joining forces on their single, “I Am What I Am,” Von and Brooklyn connect Fivio Foreign link up again on “Straight To It,” while Lil Durk plays costar on “Evil Twins,” which find him and Von channeling the more demonic aspects of their personas while pledging their allegiance to the other. Another standout collab comes courtesy of OMB Peezy, who pops up on “Get It Done,” with solo cuts like “Change My Life,” “Chase The Bag,” and “Grandson For President” rounding out the proceedings.
What It Means To Be King doesn’t reinvent the wheel or find Von treading new ground, but it’s a quality project from an authentic and unique artist who was taken before his time. Devoid of any glaring blemishes or clunkers, the album is a bit robust at 19 tracks but is a relatively easy listen, with Von keeping listeners on their toes, one harrowing couplet at a time.