Image via 454/Instagram
MudBaby Ru – “Bezzal Land”
The beat to “Bezzal Land” sounds like crossing a finish line or maybe the soundtrack to getting released from a supermax prison and being picked up by your closest confidant in a Rolls Royce. But it’s more than that — oscillating between triumphant and determined, as if the Mudbaby Ru knows that winning the race, or being released from prison, is only just the beginning.
Hearing the West Memphis, Arkansas rapper on last year’s “Gun Class,” reminded me of the first time I heard Pooh Shiesty, another Souther-born rapper whose deadpan flow and quick wit made him one of the biggest up-and-coming artists before being sentenced to five years in prison in 2022. On “Bezzal Land,” MudBaby Ru expresses gratitude and disbelief at his ability to make it out of the slums through music, saying “I had to put water on stoves to take baths, how I come up from that?”
MudBaby Ru carries the type of unstoppable force once possessed by DaBaby circa-2019: top notch beat choices, a technical proficiency in rhyming rare for new rappers and an insatiably irreverent persona usually reserved for only the genre’s biggest stars. It’s also worth noting that Arkansas may be finally having its breakout moment, with artists like Bankroll Freddie, Kari Faux, Young Quez and Mudbaby Ru all putting on for the Toothpick State, which is a reference to the early custom of men in Alabama carrying large and often double-edged dirks or daggers (although it seems as if MudBaby Ru has graduated from daggers to semi-automatic weapons.) Turns out you never bring a toothpick to a gun class.
454 – “GANGSTER PARTY”
Evilgiane is having maybe the best month of any New York-based musician. The producer and Surf Gang founder has toiled away for years, helping redefine the sound of rap in the Big Apple since 2020 by designing lo-fi, sample-heavy and drill-infused soundscapes for the ever-expanding Surf Gang collective. Last year, he produced the still-officially-unreleased “Sights,” by A$AP Rocky and Playboi Carti, which may be my favorite song from last year. His work further paid off this year when he caught the attention of Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem, who tapped Evilgiane for “The Hillbillies,” as well as Earl Sweatshirt, who’s new track “Making The Band,” is produced by him as well.
However, the best recent track to feature Evilgiane behind the boards is 454’s “GANGSTER PARTY,” a divinely perfect melding of high-pitched eccentricities and airy production. 454 sounds focused and honed-in as he describes how his crew begin their nights. “Right before the show we smoke more trees than Bob Marley,” he says, “if you didn’t know, this is how we start a party.” There’s something about Evilgiane’s almost West Coast-indebted beat that brings the best out of 454, with the rapper crooning almost melancholically about the redundancy and inevitability of his lifestyle, the constant partying, the never-ending kick-back. It’s as hunting as it is smooth and it bodes well for the rest of the project the two have lined up.
Kenzo B – “BFFR”
Kenzo B departs from her drill-heavy comfort zone and enters her boom-bap, marching-band adjacent era with “BFFR,” proving the Bronx-based artist is versatile enough to rap over just about anything. The beat is relatively simple, loud and laced with the sounds of sirens in the distance. The percussion hits like it could be coming from a group of teens on the streets banging on buckets and clapping their hands. It’s pure ’90s New York nostalgia with a new school twist and an unapologetic Kenzo B proclaiming, “yeah I said it, so what?,” on loop for the chorus. I won’t be surprised if this ends up being the New York song of the summer.
Rio Da Yung Og, GrindHard E & RMC Mike – “Lost A Person”
A quick search on the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator tool shows that Rio Da Yung OG has an expected release date of June 11, 2025. The Flint, Michigan-born rapper was sentenced to five years in federal prison back in 2021 for charges related to drug trafficking while in possession of a firearm. However, that hasn’t stopped his camp from releasing an onslaught of new music while we continue to wait patiently for his release.
This week, longtime collaborators Grindhard E and RMC Mike released a joint EP with Rio titled Ed, Edd n Eddy, laced with six new tracks of irreverent shit talking and lean-filled escapades. True fans of Rio know that some of his best work comes in the form of collabs with GrindHard E, such as “Unstoppable,” and “Hardly Breathe.” Similarly, Rio’s most successful project to date has been his Dum and Dumber trilogy with RMC Mike. Together, the trio of trend-setting Flint rappers form a three-headed monster capable of near fatal levels of toxicity. “My new bitch pretty and she thicker than crack smoke,” Rio says at one point on “Lost A Person.” The whole EP features decent production from Michigan-mainstays beatsbysav and Wayne616. It’s six tracks are further proof that both RMC Mike and GrindHard E sound best when next to their de facto stylistic leader. Free Rio until it’s backwards.
Punchmade Dev – “Geeker Party” / “Long Live Heather”
I’m not sure if I love this or hate this. Punchmade Dev has been going viral recently for extraordinarily cruel songs about purposefully killing drug addicts by selling them fentanyl. It’s a gleeful celebration of death and misery, with the idea being that he’s doing his community a favor by ridding the streets of opiate addicts, the same one’s he apparently makes his living off of as a fentanyl dealer.
“Every time a fiend dies, I should be really proud of me, we got too many bums around, I clear the crowd for free,” he says on “Geeker Party.” I love the crude absurdity found in Michigan’s brand of punch-in heavy rap, but there’s a pointlessness to Dev’s savagery that I just can’t get over. He’s trying to be a villain, and he’s also trying to be funny, but it comes off as cruel and unusual rather than clever. This is rap for the hoards of young people raised on the fear-mongering, conservative rhetoric of YouTube-centric rap sites – young people inundated with clips of addicts overdosing in grocery stores, videos of homeless men being killed for the crime of having nowhere to go.
Dev is a rapper who’s made his bones this past year by creating ultra-specific songs about credit card fraud and internet scams. However, like most things on the internet, there’s something inherently suspect about him – as if he spent the Covid-19 pandemic studying Teejayx6 videos, destined to become a shittier version of a rapper whose 15 minutes of fame ended before pandemic lockdowns were even lifted.
The raps are also just plain tasteless. “Geeker Party” ends with Dev mocking the death of George Floyd, who tested positive for fentanyl at the time of his death, and the entire video is basically dedicated to desecrating the memory of Rosa Parks for no discernible reason. It’s shock jock humor created by someone who isn’t mature enough to understand the nuance of what rappers like RMC Mike and Rio Da Yung OG are actually doing.
But part of me can’t blame him. This country collectively shrugged its shoulders when heroin and fentanyl were only drugs used by Blacks and poor whites. The opioid epidemic changed forever the demographics of heroin users in America in the early 2000s. Once it became a drug used by upper and middle class white people, all of a sudden addiction became a public health crisis. Leading doctors proclaimed addiction and alcoholism to be a disease. Calls for empathy and understanding increased tenfold. For Dev and many others, privileged white people dying on the streets from their overindulgences is simply the chicken coming home to roost.
Yet songs like “Geeker Party” and “Long Live Heather” aren’t meaningful critiques of a system that’s failed people of color. It’s instead a celebration of the endless pain felt by addicts across all races and demographics. This is because Dev is scamming to the highest degree, and unfortunately for us, “Long Live Heather,” his song dedicated to a drug addict he killed with fentanyl, is his most popular track yet. It seems as if Dev isn’t the only one celebrating the casualties of the opioid epidemic.