“My name is not OG Bobby Johnson,” the Atlanta rapper Que felt compelled to tell the crowd when I saw him jump onstage at the Fool’s Gold SXSW showcase this year. This is probably something Que says a lot. For the early months of the year, Que’s street-rap harangue “OG Bobby Johnson” was inescapable in certain circles. It’s a hard, physical, intimidatingly gothic rap track, the sort of song where you feel an urgent and immediate need to punch someone when you’re in the club and the chorus kicks in. But it doesn’t exactly tell you a lot about Que, who, it turns out, is not named OG Bobby Johnson, no matter how many times he shouts that name on the hook. (The song is named after its producer, who in turn is named after a character from the 1995 movie South Central.) Que probably could’ve helped his case for longevity if he’d chosen a more memorable name. (It’s pronounced “Q,” like the guy who gives gadgets to James Bond, not like “Spanish for ‘what.'”) And as fierce and energetic as that breakout song is, it doesn’t exactly burst with personality. Que seemed to have “one-hit wonder” written all over him, which is why it took me so long to listen to the new tape Can You Digg It?, which doesn’t even have “OG Bobby Johnson” on it. But it turns out that, judging by this tape, Que is a member of a dying breed: The street-rap goon who doesn’t really have much to say but whose shit slaps regardless.
Que isn’t an original; he’s a synthesist. He sounds, specifically, like everything happening in Atlanta rap this minute, all rolled up into one human being. At various moments on Can You Digg It?, he sounds like Migos, like Future, like Young Thug, or like Gucci Mane. More often, he sounds like some lab-constructed hybrid of two or more of those names, while also sounding like an old man. (There’s a deep croak in his voice that sounds positively grandfatherly; I really like it.) Sometimes, he sings through Auto-Tune. Sometimes, he raps in triplets. Sometimes, he sing-raps in triplets through Auto-Tune. And yet it never sounds like he’s biting anyone. Instead, it’s a Rich Homie Quan situation where Que sounds like he’s internalized all these Atlanta rap sounds and kept whatever’s meaningful to him. When he’s doing an emotional song, like “The Youth,” he sounds like he’s about to break down completely. When he’s rapping about how hard he is, as on “All Y’All,” he radiates anger from his pores: “Say bitches ain’t loyal? / Naw, niggas ain’t loyal / They be quick to switch up like clothes.” And when he’s rapping about how rich or cool he is, there’s a joyous leaping lope in his voice; he sounds like he’s having the best day he ever had.
That mutability — the ability to disappear into these of-the-moment sounds and still come off like he means it — is probably Que’s greatest asset. As a stylist, he’s impeccable, staying in the pocket and ornamenting the beats he chooses. Que mostly sticks with Atlanta producers like Sonny Digital and, yes, Bobby Johnson, and his timing and melodic instincts are perfect for these beats. He knows exactly the right moment to switch out of the locked-in double-time flow and hit the drunkenly-crooned chorus. He also gets ahold of a DJ Mustard beat on “Rich Problems” and just murders it: “Garage open, shit look like a Enterprise / Rich nigga, still eating noodles when it’s dinnertime.” Que fits in just fine alongside guests like 2 Chainz and Problem, but he actually fits in even better next to R&B singers like Trey Songz and August Alsina, possibly because his gift for melody isn’t ultimately all that different from what those guys bring.
In a pleasant, low-stakes way, Can You Digg It? is the opposite of a tape like fellow ATLien Raury’s Indigo Child, a messy and ambitious debut that shoots for the stars and crashes as often as it gets there. Que keeps his goals manageable, making satisfying and unchallenging bangers, and he ends up with a thoroughly enjoyable mixtape without a bad song on it. He doesn’t even pull the classic mixtape-rapper mistake of putting way too many songs on his mixtape; Can You Digg It? is, at 14 tracks, relatively lean. And it’s probably exactly the tape Que needed to make. It’s clear that he’s too good at making bangers to end up as a hanger-on or a footnote or a one-hit wonder. And if he can keep quietly knocking out songs like these, he won’t be any of those things, at least not for long. The 2 Chainz model, where you toil in obscurity until people all at once figure out how good you are at making songs, might not be the easiest way to get noticed. But it might be the best way.
Download Can You Digg It? at DatPiff.