Nitish Pahwa might change his name to Nitiish.
Desiigner is hip-hop’s newest litmus test. A young New York rapper who topped the Billboard charts and became a XXL Freshman solely off a catchy single that approximated Future as the star of an auto-tune stage adaptation of Grand Theft Auto. You can understand why “Panda” outsold Future’s multiple anthems. People would prefer to turn up to songs about cars rather than meditate on their inner anguish (even though we’re about ten years removed from “Throw Some D’s”). But that still doesn’t explain why Desiigner is so divisive.
Nothing about “Panda” is innovative. It didn’t introduce any new ideas or revolutionize the rap lexicon, yet Desiigner is, touted as the next rapper we should care about until the next rapper arrives. Most rappers, not the successful ones, not the derivative ones, never touch this level of success. “Panda” was so hot that Desiigner could bask off of its success for months without releasing a new single. Now that’s he’s finally dropped New English, a fourteen-track mixtape executive produced by Yeezy’s right hand man, Mike Dean, the questions are the same boring routines you’d expect from people who make a living asking questions in headlines: Where does Desiigner go from “Panda”? Will be a one hit wonder? Or will he be the newest great G.O.O.D. signee?
Anyone fervently rooting for Desiigner may find they have misplaced their expectations. When your first success becomes the most popular song in the country, you have to prove it wasn’t a fluke. New English doesn’t make a convincing case for that. It’s the sound of a hungry but pressured artist attempting to find his voice, but aware that he got paid before he actually had to do that.
The pop sensibility that made “Panda” so potent is largely absent here. Desiigner isn’t an able enough writer and rapper to craft any truly exceptional songs. His maddeningly repetitive hooks betray a lack of substance. The (in)famous mumbled delivery doesn’t serve as a creative plus; rather, it leaves a trail of incoherent, sloppily rapped verses. On top of that, the same Flockaveli-style gunshot adlibs and tongue rolls dot the tracks throughout. It’s a barely tolerable structure for one song, much less an entire mixtape.
All the songs of the tape’s first half are short and clipped, clashing together as a series of awkward, fragmented thoughts. In the second half, song length suddenly increases, feeling like an eternity. There’s no happy medium, especially when it comes to the mundanity of the seven-minute long “Da Day.” Then there are the instrumental tracks. The tape features an intro and two interludes, all cinematic soundscapes of lush instrumentation. They’re sharp contrasts to New English’s aesthetic, but welcome breathers from Desiigner’s caffeinated Kramer-esque bumbling.
Does Desiigner still sound like [insert Southern rapper here]? Undeniable. The stylings of Travi$ Scott and (of course) Future are present throughout. But credit where it’s due: he doesn’t just attempt to bite Southern rappers. “Make it Out” features a delivery reminiscent of the Chicago drill scene. It’s a welcome switch right after “Panda” clone “Caliber,” but it exhibits further plagiarism instead of artistic growth. Desiigner may not be the first NY rapper to freely exploit other regional styles—A$AP Rocky comes to mind—but he currently lacks the charm and polish to generate long-term crossover appeal.
The sole strength of New English lies in its stellar production. But it can’t alone hold its protagonist afloat. On tracks like “Monstas & Villains” and “Roll Wit Me,” the beats simply overpower Desiigner. It feels like a waste—there’s nothing here that Future or Migos wouldn’t sound better on. Even on a sensitive track like “Overnight”, Desiigner’s imitation cannot emulate Future’s best asset: his ability to convey legitimate pain. His boundless energy can only go so far.
It’s not like the opportunity wasn’t available for something more. Desiigner has everything any young artist could want at their disposal—the producers, the engineers, the artistic feedback and collaboration—yet he still seems uncertain where to go from here. For all of Kanye’s and Pusha’s boasts, New English sounds nothing like the emergence of the next big rapper. It gives off the feeling of a prospect that needs to figure out his voice, style, and ideas that he hopes to convey.
With a proper studio album inevitably forthcoming, Desiigner might still be a work in progress. He’s only 19 and it seems unfair to completely write him off after just one tape. But if he wishes to justify the current attention, his next effort will have to be a huge artistic leap forward. Otherwise, he will be relegated to the one-hit wonder label that so many sound-a-like artists often end up like, another example of the industry’s often misguided faith. As one old English rapper once said, this type of shit happens every day.