The Rise of Blocboy JB

The Bloc is hot...
By    April 18, 2018

Harold Bingo wears his OVO headband to rec league bball games.

“Look Alive” introduced the masses to BlocBoy JB. It is not always easy for an artist to attract attention when Drake is busy creating his latest sentient meme. Yet BlocBoy has no such struggles and immediately commands attention. When he finally issues the obligatory warning about what will happen to anyone who messes with his new pal Drake, anyone with functional ears knows they need to hear more.

To his credit, Drake does his best to provide BlocBoy with a radio ready canvas for his coming out party. In return, the Memphis breakout star paints in colors that Drake lacks access to — applying the type of blunt force trauma that Aubrey merely hints towards. This is the type of trauma derived from losing a close friend gunned down in front of their own home on Mother’s Day. A friend who has encouraged his artistic ambitions and implored him to stay out of the way for his own good.

BlocBoy’s upcoming seventh tape,Simi, is named for this friend. And while there’s nothing wrong with discovering an artist when they are presented to the world by the most popular rapper alive, the sudden nature of his ascent serves to obscure the fact that Blocboy is six mixtapes deep with a slew of local hits to his name. He’s been steadily honing his craft over the course of the past two years. His three 2017 releases Who Am I 3/Purple M&M/Loco were uncorked over the course of six months and Who Am I 2 was released in the waning moments of  2016. These tapes showcase an artist who is learning the full breadth of his powers. He’s not content to rely on hooks and beats to carry his material, as the ten part No Chorus series is indicative of his ability to engage the listener on the strength of his personality.

He grew up as the third youngest of seven children and eventually settled in the Raleigh community after bouncing between various Memphis area family residences. He’s somewhat nebulous about past money making activities but could never hold a job by his own admission. He is quick to let the world know that he is not a gangster but his music contains a decent amount of gun related posturing.

Meanwhile, his music reflects this duality. His eyes are squarely trained on the party that is taking place in front of him with the people he trusts the most. Killers are in the circle just in case, but he’s hoping it doesn’t come to that. He’d rather eye the freaky girl who is already on go and crack jokes about the local joker who used to eat off the ground.

That doesn’t mean that he isn’t watching for the haters that lurk on the fringes of his peripheral vision. When BlocBoy says, “You take a shot to the leg/ I take a shot & go party,” you just feel bad for the loser he’s talking about. He’s just as comfortable deploying gallows humor as he is with the Gucci Mane “use one phrase to construct a hook” formula (“Pull Up”), bouncing back and forth between the traditional “pull up” definition and a reference to the diaper brand.

He’ll turn the club into a brrrrrat party and before long it will become a track party. “Start Bleeding” is built around a crude menstruation joke but that doesn’t make it any less effective. He’ll ask himself rhetorical questions (“Snitch on your mans? Who does that? Don’t throw them hands? Who does that?”).

There’s even a two song series where he adopts the flow of Atlanta street rapper turned Birdman prisoner Money Man to great effect (“MoneyMann Flow”). While the idea of rappers borrowing flows from one another is far from new, the concept of a burgeoning street rapper paying homage to another relative unknown in such a way is.

This doesn’t mean that he is not in line with Memphis tradition. Project Pat created a template for street rap that doesn’t take itself too seriously that filtered all the way down to Dolph, Youngsta, and now BlocBoy. It’s Pat who taught area rappers about the importance of unique cadences and how to dress up standard issue tough talk in a manner that is equal parts hysterical and exhilarating. This is why he’s Gucci Mane’s favorite rapper.

These lessons haven’t been lost on BlocBoy, whose gun related threats and taunts don’t scan as particularly menacing. Whether he’s comparing the act of shooting someone to playing the flute or threatening to turn someone into barbecue, his willingness to dance and have a good time always seems to win out.

He’s more interested in partying and spending time with women than projecting an intimidating aura. Much of his more aggressive material comes across as a preemptive measure. Don’t fuck with me and I won’t fuck with you. He’ll smoke you like angel dust but only if you look strange to us. And then he’ll dance on a treadmill with a grin that shows off an impressive array of gold teeth and proclaim his love for cougars a few bars later (“Half Man Half Amazing”).

The rapidity of his rise may cause some to have skepticism. After all, this is the first street rapper that Drake has stood next to in a manner that was demonstrably more beneficial to them than him. What’s so different between BlocBoy and say….the Sauce Twinz?

Even as someone who considers themselves pro TSF, it’s easy to see what Drake saw in BlocBoy that he may not have sensed in the other street rappers he’s (momentarily) embraced on social media before moving onto the next trend. BlocBoy represents one of Memphis’ best opportunities to scratch the surface of the mainstream in the wake of Yo Gotti’s belated ascent.

Young Dolph will always have a large following and Blac Youngsta continues to perfect his Boosie-esque blend of straightforward bangers and introspection. But BlocBoy has something that neither of them possess…a knack for choosing the right flow at the right moment; not to mention the ability to thread the needle of creating regional rap that can appeal to a wide audience without kowtowing to immediately dated trends.

Fair warning: the following sentence may read sacrilegious to some. BlocBoy weaves in and out of flows as comfortably as Bankroll once did. He’s adept at switching cadences multiple times within the span of one song and has an innate knack for knowing what the track calls for.

The quality of his songcraft and production continues to improve over the course of his discography. Much of the early tapes felt like incomplete sketches as numerous songs would contain over a minute of dead space after roughly 90 seconds of rapping. The attention to detail has since sharpened and the song structure tightens with each release.

The quality of the rapping has remained constant. The verses are always vivid and full of knowing winks to the listener. He’s not someone to rap about rapping or the grind of making music. His casual approach belies the level of detail that clearly goes into the verses.

There’s something about his rise that feels almost quaint. No viral “hits” that are created by opportunists leaving their thumb on the scale. No past criminal offenses that are worth clutching pearls over. No outlandish remarks about past legends and current favorites. His burst in popularity is at least partially attributed to a dance and he is not shy about admitting his love for cooking up impromptu moves.

Blocboy hasn’t been resting on his laurels, either. Post-Who Am I 3 singles “Half Man Half Amazing” and “V Live” showcase even further progression and slot in seamlessly with the current hits.  Upon further examination, “Look Alive” is clear standout entry in the Trap Drake genre (an admittedly fallow field). Although the response to Gyalchester (get it? Man-chester? Gyal-chester? *elbow nudge*) suggests that I may be in the minority here.

The Drake bump has already begun to manifest itself as far as added calls for guest appearances are concerned. ASAP Rocky, who has spent much of his career fumbling towards anything resembling an individual aesthetic, tapped BlocBoy for a middling collaboration entitled “Bad Company” (*stifles giggle*). Rocky lazily nestles into old Thug flows while BlocBoy barges onto the song and nearly salvages it within 40 seconds. The contrast between his Technicolor transmissions and Rocky’s black and white is telling. This will not be the last time that BlocBoy becomes the life of someone else’s party. After all, couldn’t we all use a friend like him? In a rap world full of conglomerates posing as Everymen, he’s destined to stand out just by showing up.

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