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LA-based voice, speech and dialect coach Patrick Munoz asserts, in his expert opinion, that nasal voices do not command authority and that they are generally unpleasant to the ear. Clearly, Munoz has not put his finely-tuned ears to use and tried listening to some of the most compelling hip-hop (Lil Boosie, Danny Brown, 03 Greedo, Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug) of the past decade. The honk and the yelp are now uncorrectable hallmarks of a new epoch. Traditionally, a growling, gravelly baritone, without even having to say anything, was seen as the most menacing and powerful use of the rap voice.
D.C. artist Shy Glizzy possesses such a squawk, illogically giddy for all of the moral weight of struggle that it carries. It’s as if his voice is perennially trapped at the precise nanosecond a voice trembles into normal pitch after ingesting helium at a (presumably joyless) party—a tonal come-down of sorts. Amid the occasional genre-wide overemphasis on flow and lyrics, a distinct-sounding, characterful voice is sometimes enough to shoulder an artist from being scouted for World Star consideration to dominating the streaming charts.
Hovering close to a decade in the game, he still sits at the precipice of most conversations about a rap elite. A slick, memorable verse on 2017 phenomenon ‘Crew’ with GoldLink and Brent Faiyaz earned him a Grammy nomination; but the burnishing of a talent had begun many years prior. Technically his debut studio album—he has released ten mixtapes since 2011’s No Brainer—Fully Loaded is an hour-long dopamine hit, which, undoubtedly, results in his most infectious and affecting collection of songs yet.
High-octane and carrying a gorgeously shrill timbre, he is equally at ease flowing like a Gunna as he is at coalescing his life experiences, steeped as they are in anxiety, into word-drunk verse like a lucid YG. Structurally, Fully Loaded finds him doubling down on some familiar tropes from his last two projects, each of which was more polished and exact than its forebearer, to exhilarating ends.
In 2017, A Quiet Storm saw him tighten the tunes which had preceded it on 2016’s Young Jefe 2, and was a beguiling concoction of spacey, airy waves of trap which he, fittingly, glided across like a disembodied spirit. Trap, though, as we’ve come to know it in its current mutated form, is simultaneously becoming more fragmented and more redundant: some artists are sharpening the sounds like Plasticine, taking them into new exceptionalist territory (JPEGMAFIA, Playboi Carti, Young Nudy) while others continue to supply worn-out trends (Migos?), with countless others petrifying themselves into stone idols of their stylistic predecessors (Sahbabi, Lil Keed, all the Lil’s to be honest, except, perhaps, Baby).
Glizzy’s sound borrows heavily from Atlanta’s blueprint—glassy synths, rolling hi-hats, pulsing atmospherics, ominous keys—but his lilting, pinched voice and zeroed-in rapping allow him to stand out among the triplet-flows and the android warbling.
Featuring production from the likes of Zaytoven, Turbo the Great, and Geraldo Liive, Glizzy does not siphon off the glistening qualities of their beats like many modern rappers, a single ornament in an architectural masterpiece: instead, he becomes the centrepiece. Some of the songs are inherently blissful—’Diamonds’, ‘I Need Mo’, ‘Where We Come From’, ‘30s, 50s, 100s’—but Glizzy’s rhymes are anything but. ‘Diamonds’, for instance, sees the D.C. native sing the blues over characteristically melancholic Zaytoven keys about the perils (joy) of spending your waking minutes pining over jewelry. “I bought a chain for all of my pain,” he raps on the opening lines, the chorus a numbing, nursery rhyme-like melody—“Diamonds make me feel good, make you feel good.”
Shy Glizzy’s raps tend to oscillate around the friction of his past life and this new self of financial and personal betterment. “Damn, look at me. I blowed up, I done had a son,” he raps on the Harry Fraud-produced album opener—and immediate album thesis statement—‘Gimme a Hit’. “He’s a trust fund baby, he ain’t gotta hold a gun.” His child, he says, will, gratefully, benefit in immeasurable fashion from his career, but his fist-clenched delivery masks an insecurity—a kind of inverted survivor’s guilt—in his id. Lavishly wealthy and privileged, his child may indeed have been born into the lap of luxury, but will he learn to overcome adversity as stubbornly as Glizzy?
This kind of ambivalence simmers below all of Glizzy’s glossy aesthetic. He has seen fame yet he regularly stays at his cousin’s home and eats ramen noodles—he wants you to know that life can be lived vicariously, despite what social media flexes and lifestyle-fetishizing raps infer.
Throughout Fully Loaded, Glizzy trips his bars into one another in pursuit of a gloriously twinkling melody. On euphonious highlight ‘Rich Shooters’, he succeeds—rhyming “move”, “Fool”, and “tool” in turn in his trademark high-register so that the words feel strung together as one; like water from minuscule holes in a sprinkler spraying as one large mass.
No doubt: There’s a certain somberness (he speaks ferociously of his brother being killed on ‘Mafia’) which shadows his ostensibly affirmational and bouncy sound. Aside from the relatively perfunctory tracks on a label album—the libidinous Lil Uzi Vert-assisted ‘Super Feak’ especially, more unadventurous is the company Rick Ross provides on ‘Get Money’—this is Glizzy building upon everything he’s created thus far; it’s one of the least platitudinous and least cynical major-label rap debuts you’re likely to hear this year. Possessing this kind of voice, and this sinuous delivery, in 2018, is far from a prerequisite for superstardom or cult status.
Nevertheless, Glizzy cuts a unique figure in hip-hop, an unmistakable, springy voice with legitimate charisma, and a penchant for engendering his hyper-coloured songs with asphalt-shaded parables of internal restlessness. After all, a voice coach can’t teach life, they can only airbrush out the imperfections—which are oftentimes worth holding onto.