Many of the most important factors of a rapper are obvious: flow, subject matter, vocabulary, beat selection, hooks, melody, delivery, etc. These are things critics like to mention as examples that bolster their argument about whether a rapper is “good” or “bad,” even though those qualifiers are subjective and depend on each and every listener’s preference instead of a small set of authoritative critics.
But there’s one intangible quality of a rapper that defies valuation. It’s the dividing line that separates Lil’ Wayne and Danny Brown dissenters from the ardent lovers. It gives rappers like 50 Cent and Ma$e an unseen advantage, while it stacks the chips against an eccentric talent like Young Thug. Guru even said that rap music depends on it. It’s the voice.
Shy Glizzy has got a fucking voice. His squeak is post-helium, as if he’s the smallest dude in the squad with a Napoleon complex, ready to jump up and jap you in the mouth to prove his weight. Regardless of the fact that he raps about many of the same things that young men and women are rapping about today – drugs, drug deals, drug dealers, and weapons – it’s the sound of his voice, as if squeezed through a crack in the sidewalk, that pierces your skull.
His latest mixtape, Young Jefe, might be his best work to date, and that’s saying something in the wake of breakout projects like Fxck Rap and Law 2. Songs like ‘Awwsome’ and ‘White Girl’ have heavenly hooks that employ just the right amount of melody. ‘La Introduccion’ sounds like the theme song to waking up in the mansion you win at the end of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. He also has a charming sense of imagery – “My young niggas on drugs, they don’t really get no love / For an eightball and some dubs, they’ll send yo ass flyin’ with the doves.” He emotes authority with a casual drawl, and that air of leadership has led to some friction with rappers like Fat Trel and Chief Keef (he told the latter he’d shoot his grandma in the titty – ouch).
He’s also got an unusually self-deprecating quality to his music – “I Can’t Trust Myself” is self-explanatory and on “I’m on Fire,” he cops to choosing a life of crime instead of going to Howard or being a lawyer or a doctor. Teachers tell him he won’t be shit in life and Glizzy even admits he was abandoned – “A nigga killed my papa so I was a bastard.” Yet here he is, calling himself a chief as his voice rises in the DMV rap scene. The mix of a pained history with a carefree outlook is a potent one today, when the economy sucks, our environment is collapsing, and barriers to upward mobility are larger than ever. Through the fire, Shy Glizzy stays flossy with the voice of a kid who still has the nerve to go after what he wants.
More biting than Wale, more enticing than Fat Trel, and more entertaining than any of the MMG cohorts who were interested in having him join the collective at one point, Shy Glizzy is enjoying organic buzz, and as fans wait for his next move, you can peep his latest mixtape below for proof that he’s one of the best young talents doing it right now.