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G Herbo/Southside - Swervo Music Album Reviews

The Chicago rapper’s latest project as his alter-ego named Swervo is all velocity. He delivers some of his starkest verses like a steamroller, almost completely desensitized.

G Herbo is always riding with a gun. The reasons vary—he may be worried about getting caught slipping at a stoplight, or he may be pulling up, firing into a crowd of his enemies, and clearing the scene as a first strike—but it is his ultimate deterrent: an opening salvo and a last line of defense.

Guns have also left him feeling vulnerable and paranoid, and this contradiction is something his rawest music mines for emotional depth with great effect. His burly voice and surly disposition can be easily betrayed by a haunting memory welling up from beneath all that bravado. His debut album, 2017’s Humble Beast, carved soul-wrenching admissions out from inside of intense gunfights, considering the various ramifications of gun violence. The follow-up, a collaboration with 808 Mafia co-founder Southside called Swervo, is far less interested in weighing the cost of taking a life on the soul or how lingering impulses gradually evolve into learned behaviors. It speeds into action with little regard for consequences. Rapped from the perspective of an alter ego described as “the opposite of G Herbo,” Swervo is a turn away from his more writerly work. (“I’m kind of dumbing it down a bit as an artist,” he’s said.) Herbo has never really been one for nuance, but these are among his starkest verses, almost completely desensitized. “Give a fuck ‘bout where you from/All them trill niggas with us/Everybody got a gun, pussies still will get hit up,” he summarizes on “Huh.” This time around, as Swervo, he’s driving fast and shooting first and worrying about the rest later.

This daredevil approach to gunplay and cadences makes him seem unbreakable, but the longer the album goes on, the more it wears on you. Where Humble Beast was measured, its pacing merely an impetus for its dynamic, narrative-focused city surveying, Swervo is all velocity. He delivers high-powered, stampeding stanzas looking to bum-rush you before you even know what happened. There are no characters as lived-in as Malcolm; no ruinous portraits of inner-city life as penetrating as those on “Red Snow.” The flows hurtle forward with Herbo bobbing so hard that he sometimes ends up riding against the grain. Even inward-looking deliberations of personal motivation like “Some Nights” and a headstone-counting troop salute like “That’s How I Grew Up” are handled in haste.

G Herbo is a rapper of great consistency and limited range—his greatest strengths are also some of his most glaring weaknesses: He is clear in his writing and constant in his intensity. When functioning on all cylinders he can be a tank, but when he’s not careful, he can steamroll the listener and flatten out his ideas. But here, despite the sometimes careening ahead without finesse, he’s effective. The songs on Swervo are largely of the same genealogy as the exhilarating “Who Run It?” a viral Three 6 Mafia radio freestyle turned street hit single, repurposed into the album’s closer. In those three minutes, he’s irrepressible, springing forth from the triumphant horns, a scene with all the pomp of an explosive walk away after an action sequence. “FoReal,” “Huh,” and the title track each take their own interpretations of the freestyle’s breathless tremors and charged jounce. None match it but all utilize his force.

As his (deliberately) least thoughtful work, Swervo is strongest when Herbo plays up the heel turn and tinkers with his bulldozing flows. He trades declarations with fellow drill architect Chief Keef on the obvious standout “Catch Up,” staggering his cadences and building with each exchange. His raps start out decompressed on “Pac n Dre” then inflate, then explode. One of the benefits of playing a role is you playing against type, and on a song like the Juice WRLD-featuring “Honestly,” he ventures into droning singsong, relishing this freedom. These rousing tracks very much seem like repercussion-free, risk-seeking joyrides.

But even on Swervo, the real-life violence still persists. On the touching “Letter,” penned for his unborn son, he vows that his children will never have to “thug to survive”; they won’t worry about death lurking around every corner, an attempt to rectify the anxieties of his own childhood, as told in the album’s opening seconds: “Scared I wasn’t gon’ make it home some nights/Wondering am I gon’ be a homicide.” In his songs, shadows are cast over the entire city, a darkness through which unfeeling men creep and rob others of loved ones. “Long live that nigga Zack TV, heard he had a daughter/The police here ain’t solving murders, this ain’t Law & Order,” he raps to close out “Bonjour,” remembering a local vlogger who was shot and killed in Chicago. It’s no wonder Herbo can’t stop moving, and why he won’t put the gun down.

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