Will Hagle is praying for D. Rose
On the cover of Ballin Like I’m Kobe, Herb mourns at the grave of Jacobi Herring, his friend and the project’s true namesake. Another young Chicagoan shot and killed while walking in his own neighborhood — the third Herb’s had to honor this way. On opening track “Ls,” he acknowledges how lucky he is that the bullets went around him.
It’s tough to avoid Chicago’s gang violence when discussing drill music, but also because the songs tend to talk about little else. Herb is an exception. He’s a product of the same circumstances, but he describes his environment and short life history in a more sophisticated style. He’s lyrical; the genre’s most skilled storyteller. He’s one of the few that puts effort into song structure and beat selection, that doesn’t always rap in a predictable cadence.
By random chance of genetic and locational lottery, time is forced forward more quickly for some Americans. Ballin Like I’m Kobe is one year removed from Welcome To Fazoland and the Pistol P Project, but it’s better and more mature. It’s more subdued and reflective, contextualizing feelings from Herb’s melancholic nostalgia for life before rap on the auto-tuned “Struggle” to his conflicted familial relationships on “Pain.” Songs like the Bibby-assisted “Gang” and “No Limit,” two quintessential drill tracks descended from hyped-up King Louie lineage, almost sound out of place. Herb is 19-going-on-39, as he says in “Remember.” He talks with the voice and street wisdom of a 78-going-on-dead Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, even though he looks and acts like a kid that’d be on the receiving end of a “Get off my lawn.”
Ballin Like I’m Kobe is also better than most mixtapes released this year, and maybe most drill projects ever. I’m making a snap judgement, the Internet mistake of declaring something great on the same day it’s released, but that’s one of the few ways to get people to actually listen. I’m sick of the best artists getting glossed over by the larger musical community (this is a euphemism for something, but I’m not exactly sure what) just because they don’t fit into a catchy or controversial narrative. Contrived beef and the cultural appropriation debate both just attract eyeballs to advertisements. The popularity of talentless hacks like Slim Jesus means that clickbait is winning. Meanwhile, this tape is finally available for free download and the Internet is still intact. As Herb, Lil Durk, and Chris Rock in Head of State will tell you, that ain’t right.