Harold Bingo ghostwrote for Ralph Tresvant.
There’s a moment on Designer Drugz 3 where Hoodrich Pablo Juan name checks New Edition, the old school Pistons (whether he meant the Chauncey Billups or Isiah Thomas iteration remains uncertain), and Clint Eastwood. These references come within a few bars and on the heels of a hook built around a Brett Favre reference. What seems like a normal assembly of common rap touchstones becomes more emblematic.
Hoodrich Pablo Juan has positioned himself slightly left to the center of the current rap scene. While most would associate his music with other Atlanta rappers of the moment, he’s always been a man out of time. He doesn’t reference his time spent living in Newark on records but its shaped his work in unexpected ways.
The references used paint a picture of a man who regularly relies on cultural touchstones that most would consider outdated. Hoodrich has compared himself to Brian Finneran, a nondescript Atlanta Falcons receiver who was drafted in 1999. One of his most widely circulated songs to date (“Zoboomafoo”) is named after an obscure PBS program that originally ran from 1999 to 2001.
His attention to detail as a writer and reliance on untimely references allows his music to perfectly straddle the median between timeliness and trend chasing. There’s no explicit statement of purpose. He is not trying to “bring the ’90s back.” By his own admissions, he didn’t even start putting pen to paper until after Designer Drugz‘ early 2015 release.
However, Hoodrich has now become one of the few artists of the moment who can craft music that’s eerily reminiscent of the past. The south’s fertile mixtape circuit has created an environment where the best 2010s ensemble tracks are far more likely to be culled from places like Atlanta or Florida than New York or New Jersey. And failing that, Chicago or California.
“Trap Dab” (found on the original Designer Drugz) is arguably one of the best posse cuts of recent vintage. Keeping up with peak form Peewee Longway & Offset is no mean feat, yet the comparatively unknown Hoodrich is able to more than hold his own. Of course, the verse also contains references to The Nutty Professor and Shabba Ranks, solidifying Hoodrich’s anachronistic status from the get go.
“Do What I Wanna Do” (a DD3 standout) updates the “Trap Dab” formula for 2017. The absence of Longway is disconcerting, but Hoodrich creates another posse cut that harkens back to the days of the stars and would-be stars of the moment trying to outdo one another on songs that are in no way geared for radio spins. The DJ Spinz beat is a standout, a gothic, lurching thumper.
He doesn’t rely on any vocal effects. He’s a low talker whose unassuming whispery flow causes listeners to imperceptibly lean in as if he’s imparting a secret.
This same vocal quality is what causes him to sound as if he would have slotted in neatly on posse cuts with McGruff and Royal Flush. It’s not hard to imagine his ghostly rasp floating gently over Diamond D or Pete Rock’s more spacious, jazz driven compositions.
For his part, Hoodrich does his best to reward those who pay attention. His wordplay and beat selection allow him to stand out in a bloated lane because of his willingness to slightly subvert expectations.
The typical boasts from other rappers of his ilk are slightly flipped. He’s not interested in stealing your girl because she’s not his cup of tea. Even his side bitch is out of your league.
He can’t shop at Gucci any more since he already purchased every pair of shoes in the store. Like many rappers, he shares a predilection for Louboutin loafers…but he likes his with pony hairs.
When he goes to Benihana, it’s for mushroom soup. He gets pedicures for his feet and mid for dirt cheap. He will forever be the rapper associated with the Girl Scout Cookie strain. His avoidance of boilerplate allows him to convey a sense of worldliness that is only alluded to in passing. On “Walk Like Money,” a return from Paris is announced as a statement of fact as opposed to a world beating boast.
Hoodrich doesn’t simply rap about the manufacturing of drugs or the spoils of his labor, he digs into the minutiae of the day to day aspect. On “Juggin Dat Pack,” he was quick to clue us in on the importance of maintaining proper ventilation while cooking and having a ready made hole in the fence for when the police inevitably arrive. The intro on the criminally underrated Master Sensei tape with Spiffy Global finds a concerned Hoodrich fretting about a number of topics. He needs a place to back in the 18 wheeler plus his aunt requires Percocet for a spinal issue.
There are precious few artists who are able to imbue the ‘blurt one phrase 20x’ hook formula with any depth. But when Pablo Juan repeatedly barks, “Fuck a rapper, I’m a brick wrapper,” it feels less like laziness and more like an affirmation; a mantra of sorts.
Designer Drugz 3 falls a few clunkers short of a true classic. It’s three quarters of a statement project that’s been larded down with songs intended to open him up to a wider audience. There is even a track that sounds like Hoodrich’s take on adult contemporary music. Uzi and Yachty’s verses on “Zoboomafoo’s” remix feel tacked on and perfunctory.
He is able to salvage what should have been an ill fated collaboration with Playboi Carti by finding a perfect pocket on the airy twinkle. Chief Keef and Offset are left in his shadow (a rare occurrence for their guest appearances).
When the album is at its best, Hoodrich selects beats from underutilized producers slightly outside of the usual suspects. Nard & B’s contributions on “Don’t Do That,” “BMF,” and “Get It” help to shape the backbone of the album. “BMF” sounds like a drive time hit, yet I’m unsure who the target audience is for the superfluous Madeintyo verse. “I Just Wanna Kno” is a jarring inclusion that would have been better suited to another artist.
He’s routinely created some of his sharpest material with producers who are bubbling just beneath the surface. The criminally underrated Brodinski is responsible for past standouts “Weekend” and “IWFYB” (as well as the aforementioned “Walk Like Money”). The taut Danny Wolf collaboration “Hoodwolf” is every bit as essential as the majority of Designer Drugz 3.
The desire to keep certain rap lineages alive will always exist. The Gucci Mane tree extends far and wide. Different artists have absorbed different aspects of his catalog.
When it comes to densely worded lyrics that have a way of unfurling inside of your mind well after the song is over, or subtly clever references that inspire smiles and even laughter, Hoodrich is ensuring that the more lyrical side of Gucci’s music is able to live on.