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BlocBoy JB - Simi Music Album Reviews

BlocBoy JB - Simi Music Album Reviews

On the heels of a viral dance and a Drake feature, the Memphis rapper’s latest mixtape is a breakthrough that’s honest, clear, and incredibly fun.

There are no sure routes to rap stardom in the 21st century, but there are three tried-and-true mechanisms that give young rappers a puncher’s chance: viral dance crazes, out-and-out mixtape saturation, and the Drake feature. BlocBoy JB, an endlessly colorful 21-year-old from Memphis, has spent the past year leveraging all three. The number of tutorials and battles that sprung from last year’s “Shoot” is absolutely jarring, as is the breadth and pace of his work during a manic mixtape run, which saw him drop six records between June 2016 and September 2017. And then, of course, Aubrey: the pair’s collaboration, “Look Alive,” was inescapable earlier this year, conferring on Drake the cutting-edge sensibility he needs to replenish every album cycle, and on BlocBoy the sort of heat that can’t be engineered from a board room.

Simi, BlocBoy’s new mixtape, is named after one of his close friends, who was murdered two years ago. That sort of lingering pain colors the record which, on a textural level, skews toward the bright and danceable. It’s a beautifully executed tape, the type that could be played, uninterrupted, at a house party or in a strip club or on a long drive, alone. BlocBoy has a low drawl familiar to fans of Memphis rap, and often plays coy with the technical aspects of his music: he’ll stumble into a verse, and then lapse into two or three different, precisely syncopated flows. And he’s funny: he’ll crack jokes about Chris Rock and flip-flops and handing out Danimals to his doubters, or punctuate a line about selling drugs to white people with a shouted “A white!” The effect is a breakthrough record that’s honest, clear, and incredibly fun.

A significant portion of the production comes courtesy of Tay Keith, who crafted “Shoot” last summer. Simi has tremendous momentum because the songs, most of which articulate exactly one musical idea before moving on, work at a fast clip, giving BlocBoy rhythms just wonky enough to deploy the shifting, stop-and-start flows that are becoming his signature. “Wait”’s phrases loop back and wrap around one another; “No Chorus, Pt. 11”—which was given an instant-classic video this weekend—is BlocBoy at his most plainspoken, and even with few flourishes, his personality is immutable.

A cameo on a BlocBoy JB record, sunny yet serrated, seems to be a liberating exercise for other artists and Drake is not the only high-profile guest enlisted here. YG (“Nike Swoosh”) and 21 Savage (the remix of “Rover”) are capable; fellow Memphian Moneybagg Yo adds a guttural punch to the, uh, questionably titled “Asian Bitch.” And it must be said that the Floridian viral star Lil Pump is far more acrobatic on “Nun of Dat” than he has been on any of his solo material.

BlocBoy’s “Shoot” dance most recently resurfaced in “This Is America,” Childish Gambino’s ambitiously unsubtle new music video. (BlocBoy’s ad-libs are also included in the background of the song.) Throughout, its star is either dancing—gliding through a centuries-long revue—or murdering people, disposing of his weapons with a delicate care. At its end, he’s fleeing, eyes wide, from a murderous police—the same police that was brutalizing black men and women in the background while Donald Glover and his troupe interpolated some viral dances, including “Shoot.”

The implication—well, one of the implications—is that Americans, especially white Americans, are eager to gobble up black America’s cultural exports while ignoring the social and political contexts that black Americans are forced to endure. What gives BlocBoy’s music its replayability is that those moods and elements bleed into one another. Take “Good Day,” which is danceable but grim, lighthearted but packed with dread. “I just wanna have a good day” is loaded, if you want it to be. There are bright moments for trying times and more than a little menace.

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