‘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 (but don’t worry, he’s also got a roundup of honorable mentions below).
The topic of ageism in Hip-Hop has slowly dissipated over the past decade, with numerous vets continuing to make noise well into their 40s. Yet, the rap game has and will always remain one that’s dominated and defined by the stylings of its young, constantly producing a crop of brash upstarts looking to stake their own claim and tell their respective stories of tragedy, treachery, and triumph. Today, rap’s youth movement is in full swing, with a litany of teenage rhymers sprouting on the scene and shaking the table in a big way. With multiple hits and full-length releases under his belt, it’s hard to overstate the fact that rap star NLE Choppa has made his presence felt in venues he’s more than a year removed from being able to buy alcoholic beverages in.
The Memphis native, who just celebrated his 19th birthday in November, returns with his latest project, Me vs. Me. The album’s title represents Choppa’s goal to continue to elevate his craft while competing with his old self. And he achieves just that, delivering a body of work that has its ebbs and flows but is balanced with enough high-powered bangers to mask its occasional blemishes. Coming out the gate swinging with the sixth installment of his “Shotta Flow” series, Choppa spouts off couplets in rapid fashion overproduction by CashMoneyAP, weaving convincing threats between flexes of his wealth.
The introductory cut is a mere foreshadowing of what’s to come, as he carries that momentum over onto “Stompin,” one of the superior offerings on Me vs. Me. Produced by DracoKid and Sacaii, who layer ominous horns atop airy synths and booming 808s, this number captures NLE Choppa in all his lyrical splendor. At one point, the rapper compares his prowess as a shooter to NBA player CJ McCollum’s skills as a marksman.
Reflective testimonials, dreary piano keys, and a haunting vocal sample serve as the foundation on which “Still Hood” is built upon. That track and others contain an ample amount of evidence on behalf of Choppa’s ability to hold his own without any guest verses. Yet, Me vs. Me is also littered with collaborations that perfectly compliment the project’s solo fare. In addition to previously released fan-favorites like “Jumpin” featuring Polo G and the Moneybagg Yo-assisted “Too Hot,” NLE links with Young Thug on “Push It” and passes state lines alongside G Herbo on “Chicago to Memphis.” Both new songs only strengthen Me vs. Me‘s potential staying power.
Running 16 tracks in length, Me vs. Me was subjected to multiple delays leading up to its release. However, listeners’ patience has been rewarded in the form of NLE Choppa’s finest project to date, which certainly raised the bar this week.
Elsewhere in Hip-Hop, this week’s slate of rap releases is filled with other strong efforts from a varied mix of stars, despite being partially overshadowed by album announcements from both Pusha T and Kanye West. Aside from making headlines for his rampage against comedian Pete Davidson, Yeezy revealed that a follow-up to Donda will be arriving sooner than expected, sharing an image with the date “2 22 22” plastered across it. While details surrounding the project are sparse, we do know that Future will be executive producing the album, an unexpected choice, but one that adds some intrigue nonetheless. West’s recent appearance alongside The Game on “Eazy,” which samples late rap legend’s Eazy-E’s 1988 hit single “Eazy-Duz-It,” is added proof that the creative process is never far from the multi-hyphenate artist’s mind even as he dominates the tabloids.
Anywhoo, is it me, or have deluxe albums quietly become the hottest trend in Hip-Hop? Revamped releases were once reserved for special occasions. Now, it appears as if tacking on a few tracks one or two weeks after the album’s initial release is standard practice. Fortunately, this week’s drops include artists with legacies and albums that actually merit a stimulus, as Rick Ross and AZ both deliver deluxe versions of their albums Richer Than I Ever Been and Doe Or Die II, respectively. Being that Ross kept the original version of the album to 12 tracks, add-ons like “Revelations,” “Not For Nothing” featuring Anderson .Paak, and the AZ-assisted “Vacheron” may not reinvent the wheel but are sonically solid and much appreciated. A few months removed from the release of his long-awaited sequel to his 1995 debut, AZ let the Doe Or Die II deluxe marinate a bit before unveiling the finished product. And, if I must say, the VIBE tribe and I are addicted, particularly off the strength of the gruff salvo “Jewels for Life” and the 2 Chainz-assisted “Motorola Era,” which have been in constant rotation for me since their arrival.
Two locales that have emerged as prime destinations for talent scouts are Detroit and Memphis, both of which have produced numerous prospects and budding stars over the past few years. BabyFace Ray, one of the brightest talents out of the Motor City, and Memphis rep BlocBoy JB both dished out admirable releases this week; Ray unleashed his latest effort, FACE, and JB doubled back with Bacc 2 Da Bloc, which is powered by production courtesy of Tay Keith. Ray shines on highlights including “Sincerely Face,” “Blood, Sweat & Tears” featuring G Herbo, and “Dancing With The Devil,” which includes guest verses from Landstrip Chip and Pusha T. Bacc 2 Da Bloc finds JB inching closer to the magic created on his breakout project Simi with joints like “No Chorus,” “Home Alone,” “Mom’s Kitchen,” and “First Day Off Probation.”
In more NMF news, Freebandz rapper Doe Boy continues to cater to the streets on his latest release, Oh Really, which features a myriad of costars. Key cuts from the album include “3AM In LA,” “Opp Party,” and the hit single “Ain’t My Fault” featuring 42 Dugg and Rowdy Rebel. Rounding out this Friday’s list of drops is PnB Rock’s Soundcloud Daze and KYLE’s It’s Not So Bad, both of which provide a change of pace with more melodic vibes, and certainly deserve real estate on your playlist as well.