Album Cover via Bruiser Wolf/Instagram
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Donna-Claire has been listening to Kali Uchis, baking lemon poppy seed cake, making buttercream and feeling peaceful.
In the deluge of time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I inevitably find myself worrying about the state of music to come. The fear usually arrives in the middle of the annual, eight-hour New Year’s Eve cheese feast that my wife, myself, her sister, and sister’s husband partake in. We’ll be snacking until the ball drops with my greatest hits of the year as the soundtrack, and eventually I’ll start wondering if the coming year’s music will still matter as much as this one. I’m only getting older and time is only surging forward. Our capitalist, techno-facist overlords are… Have you guys been reading the news?
Now it’s January 2024. My first favorite rap album of the year has arrived: My Story Got Stories from Detroit’s Bruiser Wolf. It’s a thoughtful reflection of hustling and dope dealing, featuring live reports from wild threesomes (“2Bad”) worried and regretful dispatches from the delivery room lobby (with a plot twist where the “baby mama is my side b*tch”), and nearly 40 minutes of charisma.
If you have even a passing interest in misanthropic shit talk and uncanny cadences, you might have heard of Bruiser Wolf before. He’s a member of Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade. He’s been featured on songs with The Hybrid, The Alchemist, Blockhead, Fatboi Sharif, and more. He is a comedian and rap stylist. And his jokes are often a vehicle for heavy storytelling.
In 2021, he dropped his debut album, Dope Game Stupid. It was funny, crass, and full of creative metaphors. It introduced the world to one of the most interesting rap personalities of the last half-decade. Before music, Wolf lived a full life of pro football dreams and hustling. He came up on the showcase and cypher circuit in the Midwest, urged by his younger brothers, and as the props rolled in, Wolf shed his desire to impress others and settled into his own style. It wasn’t about rapping the right bars on the right beat–it quickly became about showing off his unique perspective and mentality.
“I don’t ever want to be looked at as a retired dope dealer. I always put more focus on being a righteous man than doing that. That is a skeleton, something that I had to do to provide and survive,” Wolf shared with Spin in 2021. This expression is the core of what makes Bruiser Wolf so damn good: his glory is his survival. In his early 40s, he’s heard and seen it all, and somehow lived to tell the tale. The comparisons to Suga Free, E-40, and other left-field pimping and dope heroes make sense. He’s giving you game and wisdom, jokes and a sense of steep consequences.
A billion years ago, I saw former Poet Laureate Billy Collins speak about memory and poetry. He explained that the best poetry is reflective, it’s not constructed from immediate feeling. Reportage is the way—it’s how you can deposit wisdom and bare your soul without having to explain the finer details. The only way out is through, and once you’re through, the world is yours. Bruiser Wolf’s world is ours.
The worldbuilding on My Story Got Stories doesn’t solely skate by on style. Wolf’s charm is outsized, but there’s an intricacy to these lyrics and his conversational yet sincere delivery. Bruiser Wolf bars are like little gifts of storytelling. Think: tasting menu omakase where you are handed a spoon of something with a gold leaf on top and wondering how you got so rich.
“Yellow diamonds, my jeweler vegan / Dopamine / I’m a baker like Josephine… Aye, I’m sipping clicquot, spending c-notes / She wanna deepthroat, on a speed boat,” when Wolf says stuff like this you can see beyond the dope boy opulence that Bruiser Wolf revels in the joy of language. He sees the seed of an image or topic, and goes into a creative frenzy, with the loose swing of his voice complementing it all.
My Story Got Stories is the work of a maximalist whose writing reaches out and grabs you. He’s not only the funniest man in the room, but he can be the most emotionally disarming. The listener just nods along, hanging onto Wolf’s every last word.
“I’m a rare breed / School didn’t prepare me / I needed therapy” he says on “Hurry Up & Buy.” Then come the images of keys to the whip and to the jail cell. The story, of course, ends with Bruiser Wolf getting head: “but that’s the story of my life, which is a good book.”
A needledrop test of each song on this album reveals painfully exposed moments of “broken promises” and sorrow. They’re tucked away in Wolf’s playful intonations, but these admissions are a reminder all the same of the way survival morphs the brain. The pain and the indulgence helix up to make up the DNA of My Story Got Stories.
Stories bursts with personality, and most importantly, for me, it’s a record I want to share. The true litmus test of if an album will endure through the year, is if there’s a desire to play it loud for people on their speakers. For all the griminess of Bruiser Wolf’s raps, there is something universal in the sense of survivalism. Since its release, the album has soundtracked the settling dust of a game night for four. We’ve made wonton soup from scratch while Wolf catalogs his come-up from the synced speakers flanking the kitchen. The want is there–I don’t labor over what to queue up. My Story Got Stories fits right in.