We all like to think that we’re above Brooklyn MC Desiigner’s much maligned mumble, but we’re not. Whether or not he’s incomprehensible, it’s impossible to deny that the 19-year-old has become a hip-hop superstar. He still calls G.O.O.D. Music his home, “Panda” is *still* the #1 song in the country, and his live performances are filled with the same energy and spark that propelled him to star status in the first place.
When “Panda” first blew up after being sandwiched within Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo, I remember being struck by it the same way I was by Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga;” both are thunderous dance-ready jams steeped in a visceral sadness that most can’t or won’t understand. All the lavish Phantoms and Rolexes come at the cost of pushing dope and facing stern shooters on every corner: “Four fillas, they finna pull up in the Phantom/Know niggas, they come and kill you on the camera/Big Rollie, it dancin’ bigger than a Pandie.” The blues of the street come up are expounded here in a way that would make his grandfather Sidney Selby proud.
Maybe I’m reading too much into it; Desiigner did admit that the song was inspired by a Grand Theft Auto V session. But his come up – as detailed in his interview with Genius’ Rob Markman – tells a different tale of street life that ended with a gunshot to the hip. This mixture of elegance and sadness over some frosty Menace production was what endeared “Panda” to me between the wilding out, the same potent darkness that fuels undeniable ATL inspiration Future’s music; though for better or worse, New English as a whole isn’t nearly that nuanced.
The turmoil and excess are palpable at their best, but while Desiigner’s energy matches his infamous live performances, only a handful of tracks come across as anything but generic. “Caliber” will have heads hitting the ceiling before you know it, but “Da Day” might be the closest New English comes to the synthesis that made “Panda” such a success. After two lengthy verses from Milly.CTD, Desiigner spends the verse flexing with strained vocals over heavy production from Khalil King and Mike Dean: “Zombie Walkin’ ’til I get it on me/Moon walkin’, seein’ moon people/I be chillin’ with the Jewish people/Smokin’ Jew kids, Jewish people/You be talkin’ ’bout the news people/You be snitchin’ on me, tellin’ on me/I got niggas puttin’ weapons on me/Tell the preacher come and preach with me.” Pusha T blesses the project with some Coke Raps© on “Jet” before the 1-2-3 punch of “Overnight,” “Zombie Walk,” and “Panda” closes the project out. It’s a shame that his distinctive XXL freestyle track didn’t find its way on here, but I hope it finds its way onto the web before the stupid remixes bludgeon it to death.
It’s fitting that the project was originally called Trap History Month because it feels both like a walking tour of trap music’s greatest hits (he and fellow Brooklynite King Savage trade bars on repurposed first song and standout “Zombie Walk”) and the inevitable buildup toward his studio album The Life Of Desiigner. Desiigner and forebearers like Young Thug and Future have fielded criticisms of incomprehensible lyrics (and heavy drug use, which I don’t abide) ever since they first started out, but the mood they’re all trying to convey always comes across, whether you understand the words or not. Wired’s piece on “post-text” rap might be a bit of a stretch, but it brings up a good point: If European and Asian hip-hop fans who don’t understand a lick of English can keep pace with Smif-n-Wessun while they’re on tour, why can’t fans of Desiigner, Future, and Thugger around the world do the same? James Brown, Aaron Neville, and D’Angelo have their incomprehensible streaks, but we got the emotion they’re trying to convey, right?
As far as warmups go, New English won’t silence all those Future comparisons just yet, but it adds another heaping helping of potential onto Desiigner’s growing profile that some G.O.O.D. Music A&R-ing could turn into something special.