Welcome to 38th issue of Backseat Freestyle. This is my weekly hip-hop newsletter I send out every Friday focusing on one big thing that happened over the past seven days. I also include links (15-25 of them) to what I’ve been listening to, reading and watching. You can check out the archive, here, and read more about me, here. If you’re already a BF subscriber, thank you for your continued support. If you’re arriving to this issue by way of a forward, LinkedIn or social media, please subscribe below. And please share this newsletter with your circle so that they can enjoy it, too; personal referrals are my best path to long-term growth. With that said, let’s get into it….
This is what’s driving hip-hop this week….
WHEN NEWS BROKE two weeks ago that Jeezy wouldn’t be the only one dropping a Gangsta Grillz project but Snoop would too, DJ Drama knew just what to do to stoke the frenzy. He announced there’d actually be THREE GG’s hitting DSPs on that coming Friday. The third one, by NBA YoungBoy, piqued my interest. While YB does his fair share of collaborative albums, he really only chooses to feed the hype machine by way of his release prowess. Here, though, he was putting himself shoulder to shoulder with two giants. And make no mistake, he’s a giant himself. He’s the King of YouTube, often besting your favorite rapper (and pop stars) in year-end consumption. It’s true, look it up. Yet he doesn’t have the same public profile; in parts because he’s been dogged by legal troubles, personal controversies and he also has a more blue collar approach to success (he rarely tops the charts with his singles; albums are another story). All things he pours back into his music. If you aren’t familiar familiar, it’s time to get so. Start with these 30 dope songs. (Counting what’s an official project or not in hip-hop can be a fool’s errand, but for the sake of this newsletter I chose to skip his NBA compilations and focus on his solo albums, mixtapes and collabo LPs, one of which is forthcoming.) Afterward you might be convinced he’s a part of the next Big 3.
Edit: updated to include his new album, I Rest My Case, making this post now about 31 songs.
Respect my mind or die from lead shower.
“Preach,” Life Before Fame (2015)
There’s a visceral look at life that NBA YoungBoy’s best music exemplifies, often drawing comparison to a preacher.
“Intro,” Mind of a Menace (2015)
The 2Pac speech at the beginning sets the tone for this mixtape series and YoungBoy takes…not the torch, because ‘Pac presented himself as a lot of things, but he taps into a lot of the fallen rapper’s early themes of oppressed people fighting just to live.
“Win or Lose,” Mind of a Menace 2 (2016)
Melancholy is NBA YoungBoy’s default setting and on “Win or Lose” he’s pensive and matter-of-fact as he scratches the inner-workings of life around him.
“So Long,” Before I Go (2016)
Topically, YoungBoy hits the notes he’s become familiar with but this was at a time when his flow and delivery were more straightforward.
“Gravity,” 38 Baby (2016)
He called this one of his favorite songs in an early XXL interviewand it’s easy to see why: at just 16, he taps into resiliency; he raps about hurting but now having the opportunity to make it right.
“Bet,” Mind of a Menace 3 (2016)
There’s an edge to YoungBoy that draws comparisons to Boosie’s early work and this track is a good place to find that.
“No Smoke,” AI YoungBoy (2017)
This track and “Untouchable,” both from AI YoungBoy, are when he really started to blow on YouTube. “No Smoke” finds him marrying some of his styles together; the aggression with an undercurrent that explains the reason behind his path. The visual ties it all together.
“Better Man,” Ain’t Too Long (2017)
This hook: “Up in these, I done seen so many things
Swear I’m so young for to have so much pain
I ain’t have nothing, I had to make it through the rain
They changed on me but man I swear that I won’t change
Right now I’m working for to be a better man
Ain’t have no father, so I had to take a stand
They ain’t with me if they ain’t feeling what I’m saying
Get up, go get it, you don’t need no helping hand.“
“Preliminary Hearing,” Fed Baby’s [with Moneybagg Yo] (2017)
NBA YoungBoy makes a lot of bangers (like “Preliminary Hearing”) and maybe makes for more headlines, like when this collabo project dropped and he lashed out at Bagg saying he wanted the smoke.
“Diamond Teeth Samurai,” Until Death Call My Name (2018)
The Hot Boy$ homage/sampling should be enough, but here, YoungBoy is fully aware of his standing in the game and flexes appropriately.
“Eli,” Master the Day of Judgment (2018)
On “Eli” he’s dealing with the tension of real life versus rap life: “Bitch I really be rapping, all my niggas really be trappin’/You hear me? But tell me what’s the difference though.”
“Murda,” Decided (2018)
Featuring Trippie Redd, this is a standard I’m staying up for mine type of record, but YoungBoy’s hook gives it a different tone that doesn’t relegate this to typical gun talk instead pushing it to feel almost regretful for the way they have to defend themselves.
“The Knowledge,” Kane & O-Dog [with VL Deck] (2018)
A concept project, track and video that shows some versatility.
“My Mama Say,” Realer (2018)
I just think this one is funny because he says “I shoot that stick like Rajon Rondo” and Rondo can’t shoot. But the record is hard af.
”I Am Who They Say I Am,“ featuring Kevin Gates and Quando Rondo, 4Respect 4Freedom 4Loyalty 4WhatImportant (2018)
Over a nice flip of Ashanti’s "Rain On Me,” YoungBoy drops his resume in the verse (sticking to the theme) as all three go for theirs. It’s a nice contrast hearing him next to Gates, who might be more popular (because of interviews and antics) despite having a smaller following.
“Time I’m On,” AI YoungBoy 2 (2019)
Because if the volume of music YB releases, the arc of his life is often front and center for everyone to see, including on “Time I’m On” where he taking to drugs more to deal with things.
“Long RD,” Still Flexin, Still Steppin (2020)
It’s easy to forget YB is so young, only 20 when he made this track where on the chorus he goes: On a long road, I ain’t tryna find my way home/ I believe I can, I know somewhere I’ll find peace all alone.
“Fire Stars,” 38 Baby 2 (2020)
YB revisits one of his first projects on this sequel and “Fire Stars” takes it back to what YB does best, digging into his own feelings of regret, opps and resiliency.
“I’m Up,” Top (2020)
When you build a following talking about your pain and the people relate to that, it makes it that much more special when your tied rises.
“Thrasher,” Until I Return (2020)
“Nobody Safe,” Nobody Safe [with Rich the Kid] (2020)
YB collaborates with a lot of folks, particularly of his stripe in delivery and tone, which makes Rich the Kid a key cohort.
“Forgiato,” Sincerely, Kentrell (2021)
He’s poppin his shit.
“Choppa Boy,” From the Bayou [with Birdman) (2021)
YB is a mix of some of BG’s grizzled flow and Wayne’s passion, (not the two of them together in totality), and he does a nice job of sending nods to Cash Money throughout his discography.
“2Hoo,” Colors (2022)
“Bring The Hook” is the most well known on this project, for YB’s dis toward Durk over King Von’s death (and YB’s frequent collaborator Quando Rondo’s involvement; an affiliate of Rondo was charged) and while you can check that one out, it’s “2Hoo” that I wanna focus on—it’s more of an uptempo number (at least for YB), which showcases a potential for later material.
“Little to A Lot,” Better than You [with DaBaby] (2022)
YB rarely contrasts sounds in collaboration, but this project was nothing but that, with his sing-songy drawl paired with DaBaby’s rapidfire flow. Overall and like on “Little to A Lot” it gives a fresh tone to his style.
“My Go To,” The Last Slimeto (2022)
Could have been a DJ Khaled single and I say that in a genuinely complimentary way. If Khaled were ever to reload with singles that weren’t Drake/superstar focused, this type of pairing would be good for everyone.
“Purge Me,” Realer 2 (2022)
Again, because of his output, you can really trace the arc of his life and growth. And while he has a tried and true formula or blueprint, as he becomes more successful he pours more of that back into his music like on “Purge Me,” where he’s more expansive about his family and vices.
“It Could Go,” 3800 Degrees (2022)
It’s really astonishing the amount of high quality work YB’s albe to put out, including the mixtapes that often drop right after official albums. On this one, he wrestles with being called the 2Pac of his generation, surviving in the wake of his fallen friends and trying to walk a straight path.
“Get Right,” Ma’ I Got a Family (2022)
A hypnotic number that flirts with being more melodic but YB uses a rapid-fire flow that makes for a woozy track on the toxicity of a relationship.
“Give Me A Sign,” 3860 [with Quando Rondo] (2022)
These two are Lil Baby and Gunna, Drake and Future, whatever noteworthy pair you want to name; if it weren’t for the headlines they make and decisions that they made, they’d be mentioned more often among the top duos.
"Bitch Yeah," I Rest My Case (2023)
Sometimes it just ain't a record about pain or circumstances, it's an I'm that guy energy track. That's what "Bitch Yeah" is, a head-nodding, rocking joint that finds YoungBoy pounding his chest on his Motown Records debut and reminding everyone that his success isn't solely due to output.
Edit: All 31 songs in a YouTube playlist, here.
Music, news, reads, podcasts and videos that I’m checking for this week.
You might’ve heard that last week DJ Drama had a good Friday, word to my Christians. He helmed Gangsta Grillz releases by NBA YoungBoy (Ma’ I Got A Family), Jeezy(SNOFALL), and Snoop Dogg (I Still Got It). [Listen] [Listen] [Listen]
Here’s a pair of artists, Trippie Redd and Don Toliver, that I’ve long rooted for and I’m glad they finally linked up for “Ain’t Safe.” The track is a warm-up to the next volume of Trippie’s A Love Letter to You, a series where he really gets into his gothy-bravado bag. Consider this my track of the week. [Listen]
New Duke Deuce? Yes, please. Memphis Massacre III is a jam. “Buck The System” and “What’s My Name” are gonna blow out speakers. [Listen]
Baby Keem reloads with the deluxe version of The Melodic Blue. The seven new tracks have a mix of tones that match the original set but could have also just been a new, standalone EP. “Highway 95” with it’s flip of The Fugees’ “Killing Me Softly With His Song” (It’s Lauryn’s vocals not the OG) is a standout. Related: Lil Uzi Vert, who appears on the Keem deluxe, put out a new track earlier this month, “Just Wanna Rock,” that’s very Baltimore Club and he floats on it. [Listen] [Listen]
Smino returns with his first full-length solo album in four years, Luv 4 Rent, which is a sparse collection that features the St. Louis artist’s down-shifted mixture of spiritual raps and crooning. Press play on “Defibrillator,” “Lee & Lovie” and “Ole Ass Kendrick.” Related: Smino sat down with The Cruz Show. [Listen] [Watch]
I feel like you either love Westide Gunn or you love the TikTok impersonations of him. I’m in the latter camp, but I will say the Griselda chief has a knack for curation and puts all his guests in position to do their thing on his albums. On his latest, 10, the last in the Hitler Wears Hermes series, Stove God Cooks steals the show on every track he appears on, particularly “Shootouts In Soho” and “Science Class.” [Listen]
Taylor Gang’s G Rage project is here and it’s a good vehicle for Wiz Khalifa to flex without reaching for the pop charts. “Grave” and “Heaven Sent” are two quick standouts. [Listen]
Kodak Black doesn’t get the recognition for his prowess, but 2022 has been a big year for him; from the feature on Kendrick’s album, “Super Gremlin” topping the radio chart and two albums, including the just-released set, KUTTHROAT BILL: VOL. 1. He stays working. “300 Blackout” is the new heater on this one, but “Play” is gonna make noise if Atlantic works that record. [Listen] Related: Speaking of Atlantic, reports say they’re losing two of their stars: NBA YoungBoy has signed with Motown Records and Kodak is heading to Capitol after fulfilling his contract. [Read] [Read]
Missy Elliott gets the key to the city in her hometown and a street named after her. Related: Salt-n-Pepa to get a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. [Info] [Info]
What’s being reported as the first settlement in the Travis Scott/AstroWorld tragedy has been reached, according to the attorney representing multiple victims. [Info]
The homie Cheryl Paglierani recently made partner at UTA and sat down with Variety to talk about being the agent for Post Maloe, 21 Savage and Offset, among others. [Read]
New York Drill, YouTube and TikTok mixed for a bad trend in the wake of Notti Osama’s death: The Notti Bop, a crass viral dance that mocks the upstart rapper’s stabbing death. [Read]
Vikki Tobak’s latest tome, “Ice Cold: A Hip-Hop Jewelry History,” gets a critical review courtesy of the great Oliver Wang.Related: Jonathan Abrams latest oral history, “The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop,” is excerpted. [Read] [Read]
Billboard spoke to Armani Caesar about her newly-released album, The Liz 2, and being the First Lady of Griselda. [Read]
Sounwave opens up about his production career for Consequence of Sound’s’ Behind the Boards. Related: Mass Appeal’s Rhythm Roulette caught up with Pi’erre Bourne. [Read] [Watch]
Essence kicked off a State of R&B series, which smartly takes on the genre in a number of pieces, of which the most important is “R&B Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Different Now.” [Read]. Related: GQprofiles Tems. [Read]. Steve Lacy visited The Breakfast Club and Babyface sat down with the R&B Money crew. [Watch] [Watch]
Nearly a year after Young Dolph’s tragic death, here’s a tribute to the life of the late rapper that recalls his last days, reveals his plans to wed and revisits his rise to stardom. [Read]
I did a Kanye West edition of Backseat Freestyle last year so I’m not gonna venture into Yeezy territory again, however, of all the ink spilled on Ye recently, the best, in my opinion, is by Jon Caramanica, who’s been working on a book about him, and brings a historical lens to contextualize how far he’s fallen. [Read]
Passion Of The Weiss caught up with MAVI for a Q&A; the Charlotte rapper’s Laughing So Hard It Hurts is one of the year’s best projects, if you ask me. [Read]
Backseat Freestyle’s Hip-Hop Award Season 2021 honoree Big Latto and our Hip-Hop Award Season 2020 honoree Flo Milliconnect for an artist on artist conversation in RollingStone. Related: Robyn Mowatt’s OKP catchup with the Alabama rapper ahead of her recent New York show.[Read] [Read]
Ashanti strikes back at Irv Gotti during her appearance on Angie Martinez’s IRL podcast. [Listen]
The Dissect podcast is strong when they pick the right album (DAMN., Because The Internet) and wayward when they don’t (Channel Orange, Lemonade), but they’re back with a banger for their 10th season: Tyler, The Creator’s Igor. [Listen]
It might not ring out like “Munch,” but Ice Spice has a certified follow-up on her hands with “Bikini Bottom,” where her breathless flow shines and she’s having a ball in the visual (and that SpongeBob flip by RIOTUSA…works). [Watch]
I’m all for Funk Flex and his challenges, which have been accepted by artists like legacy kids applying to college: without question. The latest? Busta Rhymes, Conway The Machine and Big Daddy Kane (produced by Marley Marl) connect for “Slap.” [Watch]. Related: Bus tore down that N.Y. State of Mind tour with Wu-Tang and Nas over the summer and into the fall; now there’s a mini doc about the trek. Also, Puff is in on the action too with “Diddy Freestyle,” where even if you don’t like the rhymes there’s too much fun in seeing PD do his thing back in the city. [Watch] [Watch]
Juice WRLD’s latest posthumous single, “In My Head,” features a stunning video, full of BTS footage, that captures the late rapper’s vitality and him in vice. It’s a painful reminder of a life cut down due to drugs, but also a brief remembrance for a young, talented musical act who still had so much left to give. [Watch]
I’m a sucker for a song about salvation and Ab-Soul’s “Do Better” is long on introspection (“Shades stuck to my face, hoodie glued to my head/ Hiding from the same world that made me who I am”). The video, directed by Omar Jones, is a stark visual that’s simplistic yet all the more powerful for its subtlety. Might be my favorite visual of the year. [Watch]
For my tastes, Polo G’s best material is often melancholy in tone; for his new heater, “Bag Talk,” topically he’s hitting the same notes (ops, fallen homies, etc.) but there’s more of a resiliency underneath it. And he’s for sure having a good time in the clip. [Watch]
Finese2Tymes feels like a bit of a Rorschach Test; he’s a Memphis rapper with a syrupy flow that carries tradition but he’s also steeped in East Coast slang and bar style and he can ditch his heavy drawl for a more hoarse delivery at times. He’s versatile. Regardless of how you see him, here, in “Humble,” he looks like a star. [Watch]
My brother Sway has been in his Oakland bag lately with a dope interview and freestyle from LaRussell this past week and last month he had Symba drop some bars (that Symba album, Results Take Time, is another one for Dram Brady). [Watch] [Watch]
Earlier this year, Amazon Music dropped a dope doc on the Prime platform exploring the history of Dembow, an musica urbana sub-genre out of the Dominican Republic. For part two, none other than Bad Bunny pulls up; he’s gotten deeper into his Dembow bag the longer his discography stretches out. [Watch]
Backseat Freestyle is written and produced by me, Jayson Rodriguez, for Smarty Art. If you have any comments, feedback or questions, feel free to email me:[email protected] If you would like to discuss sponsoring an issue of the newsletter, contact: [email protected] smartyartllc.com and check out the rates, here. And follow me elsewhere:
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