Will Hagle dropped a little change to get rid of opps.
As many of his song titles and lyrics ultimately reveal, relentlessness and heartlessness are the two most crucial elements of Moneybagg Yo’s formula. For the past few years, he’s been pouring out mixtapes at a pace paradoxical to his slow Memphis drawl. He pummels you with bar after bar, track after track, tape after tape of matter-of-fact street wisdom, stripped of any unnecessary emotion.
Despite the accuracy of the words that Moneybagg uses to describe himself, relentlessness and heartlessness aren’t the only two qualities that have factored into the rapper’s steady ascent. His increasing popularity beyond his home of South Memphis could be attributed to any number of the aspects that make him appealing, or have primed his career to succeed: his meticulous adlibs, his sing-song drawl, his wholeheartedly Memphis sound, his hilarious imagery, his propensity for referring to all social media both in real life and on record as “Insta-snap,” his relationship with his mentor Yo Gotti, etc.
The relentlessly aforementioned “R” and “H” words are just the traits that he’s been able to “speak to existence, like a magic show.” That’s the simile Moneybagg Yo chooses on 43VA Heartless, his latest mixtape, to describe how he rapped about money before he ever had any. It could just as easily have been used to describe the rapper’s smart self-branding, which he’s honed under Yo Gotti’s tutelage and through a distribution deal with Interscope. It encapsulates his identity. He kicks off 43VA Heartless with a track called “Relentless Again.” The tape’s cover features an oddly artistic rendering of a pair of surgeons physically removing his actual heart from his chest. He’s relentless, he’s heartless, and yet he’s so much more.
In its proper context, the Moneybagg lyric quoted in the previous paragraph appears on 4Eva Heartless’s final track, “Word 4 Word.” He says, “Don’t know how I talked about money back when I was poor (How’d you do that?) / Had to speak it to existence like a magic show (Abracadabra).” The parentheticals, of course, represent adlibs, typically delivered at a lower volume and filtered through a telephone-like, mid-range frequency-focused audio effect. In other words, he talks to himself on the beat after almost every line, and it is almost always inventively glorious. Elevated adlibs are a Memphis tradition, and Moneybagg doesn’t fail any of his predecessors or peers.
The way Moneybagg weaves verses and adlibs together can make listening to his songs a fragmented, disoriented experience. The adlibs don’t just repeat phrases or words from the verse, in the way Migos might. They complete the verse itself in a conversational manner, or they add an extra quick jab—or both, as is the case with the following two lines, from the City Girls-featuring “4 Da Moment”: “Wanted you from a distance (over there) / Now all I want is distance (go back over there).” Sometimes the line/adlib duo is a rhyme itself, like on the Offset-featuring “Style Ain’t Free”: “This shit ain’t free (shit costs a fee!)”
All of these bar/adlib constructions are better to listen to than they are to read. The chorus for the Drum God-produced “Part of da Game” looks annoyingly repetitive and simplistic on paper, for instance, but in the context of the song is a scathing rebuke of a police informant and also one of 4Eva Heartless’s strongest moments:
Last thing I heard, he spoke to the law (Informant)
What part of the game is that? (What part?)
What part of the game? (What part of the game?)
What part of the game is that? (Let me know)
What part of the game? (Can you tell me?)
What part of the game is that? (What part?)
What part of the game? (Man, I don’t know)
What part of the game is that? (It’s fucked up)
What part of the game? (I need to know).
In those adlibs, Moneybagg expresses an honest frustration. Lest you think those words might reveal a warm heart still beating beneath his cold chest, he clarifies on “Word 4 Word”: “Don’t get it fucked up when I say I’m heartless / That do not mean I’m painless.” The chorus of that track references the fact that his fanbase has memorized all of his lines, acknowledging that he’s profiting in some sense off the pain he’s experienced throughout his obstacle-filled life in South Memphis.
Relentlessness might not be a direct synonym to consistency, but Moneybagg Yo is at least as consistent as he is relentless. 43VA Heartless is barely registrable as a departure from the quality or tone of the tapes that came before it. In terms of high profile features, catchy songs, and front-to-back playability, it’s about on-par with Reset, his 2018 “official debut album.” Still, it’s remained on repeat in the streaming services of mine and many other vocally supportive @MoneyBaggYo followers. There’s no identifiable reason for what makes a prolific artist’s newest album resonate more widely than their predecessors, especially if the formula hasn’t changed. Sometimes all it takes is an artist like Moneybagg to repeatedly insert himself into the musical conversation, to hustle in that signature Memphis way in order to keep listeners aware of their existence. Yo Gotti, himself about as many years deep in the game as Moneybagg Yo is old, must have been reassuring his mentee that the time always comes for an artist whose talented, calculated, and patient.
From Moneybagg’s point of view, 43VA Heartless is, in some senses, a conscious return to an earlier sound. On Complex’s #EverydayStruggle series, he spoke on the growing pains that most successful artists end up going through: “My fans be like, where the old bagg at? We want the old bagg. It’s hard to keep it balanced. At the same time, the fans don’t understand that you’re trying to grow. They think you’re leaving them. You’re getting too industry… On 4Eva Heartless I just tried to whip it up in a pot—the old bagg, the new bagg—give ‘em what they need.” In the same show, he indicates that his aspirations span far beyond rap. He wants to get into fashion (the Future-featuring “Chanel Junkie” on Reset is a good hint) and entertainment (so it makes sense that he indulges rumors like the one that he dates Megan Thee Stallion, potentially addressed on 4Eva Heartless’s“Commotion” in lines like “when we out I let you post me, fuck it, let’s start some commotion.”).
Even if he evolves into what he describes as “the new bagg,” Moneybagg Yo has a formula. We expect him to be relentless. We expect him to be heartless. We expect him to rap about the same subjects, and to punctuate most lines with an atypical adlib. We expect him to release quality mixtapes like 43VA Heartless on a regular basis. Yet people keep listening, because he fulfills those expectations with such consistency, and consistently surprises with such compellingly inventive flashes of language. The seemingly infinite aspects of his talent and character appear to be revealing themselves further with every project he puts out, chipping away at the most contrived elements of his branding in a relentless, heartless manner.