No one looks happier than Nef the Pharaoh. Look at him on the cover of his self-titled EP. He’s beaming like Bob Ross with a brush or Rick Ross with a lobster thermidor. This is what glo’ing up looks like in literal terms. If we’re used to fame induced misanthropy and wariness, Nef handles it like a guy that won the lottery. And at a time when bleakness reigns, it makes him sound that much more vital or at least allows his music to offer a moment of temporary solace.
It’s unclear to what extent Juvie the Great broke down to Nef the Pharaoh the dubiously legal darkside of how Baby came to be balling. Regardless of Trumpian financial improprieties of the Big Tymer, there’s no denying that he’s one of the five greatest A&Rs of all-time. He also was one half of Like Father Like Son, arguably the best full-length Lil Wayne album that you could purchase in stores. And we owe him an indefinite amount for bringing Juvenile to the world, who is now entering his fifth decade in Girbaud jeans.
Yet Juvenile sounds reinvigorated alongside the teenager that he influenced across the continent. The Bay and Louisiana connect has been there since well before Master P first fled Richmond and this is the latest cross-continental slapper. A natural pairing considering both rappers were famous and barely old enough to drink, ostensibly coming out the womb with voices youthful and ancient. Juvie sounded like an old man in his early 20s, croaking in new Creole, sitting on 20 inch rims like an ambulatory throne.
While Nef’s vocal chords owe allegiance to him and the Carter from the 17th ward. Over the last year, he’s seemingly gotten more intricate in constructing his verses, boasting about “eating Ruth Chris with Ruth and two pits,” which is the sort of thing that Weezy would’ve said a decade ago. He sounds like what you’d expect the Hot Boys to sound like if they came out in 2016.
As for Juvie, that belt comes in and you immediately snap back to the first time you heard him whether on “Ha” or “Slow Motion,” 20 years deep in the game, avoiding rust because it sounds like he’s been buried in the mud. The only thing dated is the sparkly middle-aged crisis Christian Audigier style shirt, but that’s forgiven when you were the man who instructed an entire millennium how to stunt.
The song is alternately about putting on friends still shackled while they rose, a message of solidarity for the incarcerated and confined, a reminder to not forgot what it’s like at the bottom. It’s also a Nef the Pharaoh and Juvenile song so it’s a testament to the good life, that fleeting happiness that could be yours if you’re lucky enough. It’s joy offered at a dark time and that’s reason enough to keep listening.