Mano Sundaresan will one day teach a class about Sean Combs’ mastery of adlibs.
Bouba Savage/Smooky MarGielaa – “Bands”
It’s 11:00pm on a Thursday and I’m watching a Culture Plug interview in which four middle-schoolers from the Bronx rank their top-five rappers (22Gz and Sheff G are mentioned twice), debate over whether 6ix9ine is better than Jay-Z, and try to name their favorite Jay-Z song (“the one that he made with his wife, Beyoncé”). The kid in the middle with a colorblocked hoodie and a red-hot temper is 12-year-old rapper Bouba Savage, the youngest pulse of Bronx hip-hop. He scoffs at his homie on the far right for leaving him out of his top five – the others don’t dare to do the same.
On “Bands,” the 16-year-old Smooky MarGielaa plays elder statesman while Bouba Savage bounces off the walls and hits Woahs with reckless abandon. They’re both fully immersed in the scene’s melodic wave brought on by A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie but find ways to break the mold. Bouba Savage especially uses his voice in whispery, Thuggian ways – the way he hits that “Lately I been grinding in the stuuuu” is irresistible.
BlocBoy JB – “No Adlibs”
Every comment on this video is some snarky remark about how BlocBoy JB sounds naked or out of breath or that this song would’ve been a minute longer with ad libs, and it’s all justified (maybe not that last one). Ad libs have become such a staple of BlocBoy’s arsenal that he sounds like a different rapper without them. The lack of repeated first syllables is especially jarring. But that isn’t a bad thing. He goes off on this track, revving up from triplets to sextuplets effortlessly and proving his dexterity in ways that often go unnoticed.
Maxo – “In My Penny’s” (prod. Swarvy)
Maxo’s writing is full of pensive gems like this one: “My mama told me dream ‘til them street lights hit / ‘Cause when you grow to be a man, you can’t think like this.” The L.A. rapper’s writing is consistently transportive. He sometimes comes off as an extension of the NYC lofi scene, from the way his voice is processed to the people he works with, but he’s a little less subterranean and a little more traditional. He’s best over somber instrumentals that wail and sound like slices of home. “In My Penny’s” is produced by Swarvy, one of the best lo-fi artists of the decade. Swarvy weaves a bouncy sample into clicks and rattles before slowing it down for a slumped boom bap section. Recently signed to Def Jam, Maxo is gearing up to release a project this month called LIL BIG MAN.
Wiardon – “Statik” (prod. Wiardon & Por Vida)
Wiardon’s name pops up all over SoundCloud, from producer credits on one-off trap beats to his own music that skews lofi. The 16-year-old from Austin, TX is incredibly versatile, kicking flows as effortlessly as he flips samples. His beats skew lo-fi but heave and sigh from all the layers. He and PNTHN’s Por Vida are behind the boards on this one, which has this relentless, pulsating gurgle that sounds like something straight from Some Rap Songs. Wiardon’s rapping is the perfect counterpoint – slight and mixed-down, effective without being intrusive.
Gunna – “Who You Foolin” (prod. Wheezy)
The issue with the Young Thug children is that they each stick to a specific trait of his and never really try anything else. What makes Thug so captivating is his ability to switch from one mode to another, a yelped chorus right into a flurry of bars. It never feels like he’s trying on different hats because, well, Thug invented them all himself.
His children have moved past the “Thug clone” criticism by basically becoming less interesting versions of him. Gunna has mastered Thug’s technicality, but rarely veers from it. At his best, he locks into a flow and sticks every landing, but when the beat doesn’t complement his voice or he gets lazy, he lapses into wallpaper. Each of his projects has a few hits and a lot of filler, and Drip or Drown 2 is no different. Only including “Who You Foolin” because of this Cousin Stizz Triller video.