Shy Glizzy wants you to know that he is not Wale. On his song “I Am DC,” Glizzy throws a few shots at the more prominent rappers who claim his hometown: “These niggas ain’t from my city, don’t represent my city / They all around the world but I don’t catch them in my city.” Unless I’m drastically overestimating Fat Trel’s international touring capabilities, that means Glizzy has one person and one person only in his sights: The Maybach Music beneficiary with the dreads and the inflated sense of self-worth and the unfortunate tendency to lapse into slam poetry. Glizzy’s main point of contention: He is a street dude, a guy with a rap sheet and a name that rings bells in his hometown’s shadier corners. Wale is just some guy. Lately, Glizzy’s whole persona has fallen further and further out of fashion among young, rising rappers, perhaps because it’s harder to snare major-label money or Scion sponsorships when you’re depicting yourself as a dangerous and chaotic person. But Glizzy even revives the whole Beanie Sigel thing about not really being a rapper, of snorting haughtily at those who work too hard at rapping: “I just started this rap shit, so please don’t get it twisted / These niggas been rapping they whole life, so how the fuck they live it? / And y’all supporting anything, I just don’t fuckin’ get it.” And there’s a hole in the rap world for a guy like Glizzy, an unreformed hardhead who gleefully expands on his head-busting abilities. Sometimes, it leads Glizzy to say truly indefensible things (“shoot my son up with a K before he ever turn gay”), but it also lends him an intensity that can be refreshing when you get sick of hearing guys rap about their sneakers. But Glizzy’s whole not-a-rapper persona isn’t enough to hide the reality: Glizzy is a weird motherfucker who makes weird, fascinating music.
For one thing, there’s that voice. Rap has a long below-the-radar tradition of legit tough-guy rappers with high, chirpy voices: Eazy-E, Lil Boosie. Maybe it’s a Tyson Effect sort of thing: An hour of gun-talk suddenly gets a lot more fascinating when the guy doing the gun-talking sounds like a cartoon rabbit. Glizzy works that effect harder than most. His voice is simply ridiculous: A demented squeak, like a little kid holding his nose while jumping around and making fun of you, if that little kid was saying stuff like “I can get you popped if I want to / I love my glock, we such a good couple.” But the disconnect wouldn’t mean much if Glizzy didn’t know how to use that voice, and he does. When Glizzy released his Fuck Rap tape late last year, that voice was enough to keep me away, but on Law 2, he blurs into his beats way more seamlessly than I remember him doing on that one. He’s got a playful singsong flow, one that darts in and out of the beat, and it makes him sound even more like a little kid making fun of you. But he’s slow and purposeful, too, and he hides little hooks in his verses, little moments that you find yourself singing along to the third time you hear the song (“I ball like Ray Allen! / I shoot like Ray Allen!”).
And then there’s the music, which tends to sound like it’s melting. When you get into the universe of people who claim to be their city, the music can get pretty boring an unimaginative, but that’s not the case here. Glizzy’s beats, from producers like Future collaborator Metro Boomin, tend to rely on slow fogs of bass-tone, on sad keyboard-twinkles, on melodies that seem to bubble up from the ground. I can’t tell if it’s a case of Clams Casino/Ryam Hemsworth Tumblr-rap aesthetics slowly leaking through to regional street-rap or if the producers here have just arrived at this sound independently, on their own. But either way, that sound works surprisingly well with Glizzy’s amped-up voice and with the sudden bursts of emotion that we hear here. That emotion is another thing: Even for all his tough-talk, Glizzy rarely leads sight of the despair that usually hides behind those crime-life narratives. “Some Ones” is a third-person story about a girl who gets trapped as a stripper because she doesn’t have any other options. “Free The Gang” is about friends locked up, Glizzy chanting “you threw your life away, threw your life away” over and over. And though he’s not as consumed with this stuff as emotive sing-rappers like Future and Kevin Gates, he goes deep enough into it to belong somewhere in the same lineage as those guys.
Speaking of Gates, he shows up here, as do fellow internet-darling types like Migos, Starlito, and Doe B. These guys all come from different places, and they’ve got rap styles way different from Glizzy, but he sounds totally comfortable next to all of them. More importantly, their presence suggests a sharp curatorial ear. Glizzy doesn’t overload his tape with guest-raps, but all the collaborators he’s chosen make sense next to him. The beats make sense, too. He’s figuring out what musical contexts work the best for him, how to best showcase that insane voice. Law 2 is a big leap forward, an endlessly listenable collection of trunk music with enough weird stuff going on to keep it interesting. And if Glizzy really did just start rapping, he’s improving at a terrifying rate, so imagine what he’ll be able to come up with next time.
Download Law 2 here.