Here are some details about 03 Greedo, the LA street-rapper who, in recent months, has become a sort of online cult hero: He’s got a metal rod in his leg, where he was shot last year. (Greedo claims that doctors wanted to amputate his leg, but he refused.) His face is covered in gang-symbol tattoos, which contrast with his meticulously maintained facial hair in ways that I find frankly unsettling. His rap name has nothing to do with Star Wars or even with the year 2003; it’s a gang-life mutation of his original rap name, which was Greedy Giddy. In 2016, Greedo and an associate were arrested in Amarillo, Texas after a police officer discovered four pounds of meth and two stolen guns in their car. Greedo is still awaiting trial on the charges that followed, and if convicted, he faces a possible life imprisonment.
I’m not telling you these things about Greedo to paint a lurid street-life picture. Growing up in the Watts section of Los Angeles, Greedo had to do many of the same things to provide for his family that a lot of young, disenfranchised black men have to do. He’s been rapping for years, releasing a long trail of mixtapes, but he’s only had what could be described as a rap career for the past couple of years, at most. There’s tragedy in his story, but that story itself isn’t so remarkable. Instead, I’m telling you this so that you’ll know that Greedo came by his deep strain of weirdness honestly. It’s not an art-school affectation. It’s him.
In an LA Weekly profile last year, Greedo described his style as: “Pain music that’s popping… My shit is like emo music for gangbangers, because we’re stressed out, too, but have trouble expressing that without looking lame. Even how I do my ad libs makes you feel the soul and the pain of it.” In some ways, that’s a simplistic way to describe what Greedo does. His music often bursts with creativity, with fun, and with life. His voice is a livewire crackle, a nasal burst of cartoonish color that he can use in stuttery rapid-fire triplet-flow or in a scraggly melodic howl. But Greedo also keeps you on your toes, and there are moments on his songs that speak to a deep sadness. “Pop It,” a single from Greedo’s new mixtape The Wolf Of Grape Street, sounds like a gluey half-R&B love song, one that Greedo delivers in a wily croon that’s more Max B than Drake. But it includes genuinely troubling lyrics like this one: “I don’t do the Xans / I don’t do the molly / Bitch, I do them real drugs.”
As a musician, Greedo’s closest analog is probably Young Thug, another artist who twists circa-now street-rap boilerplate into messily abstract personal art. But Thug is now very much a part of the Atlanta rap establishment, and as strange as he is, he’s still making music that registers, on some level, as pop. Greedo’s not doing that. As a Californian, Greedo is more of a genuine outsider. He favors production, from relative unknowns like Beat Boy and Ron Ron The Producer, that sounds cheap and utilitarian in blurry and effective ways. It’s a chintzy sound, but when paired up with Greedo’s voice, it just works. Greedo’s greatest producer is probably Greedo himself; the spacey rumble of “Never Bend,” the final track on The Wolf Of Grape Street, is a thing of beauty.
Like Thug before him, Greedo chases melody. His verses unfold with their own logic, hooks emerging in sidelong and unexpected ways. And as a lyricist, it’s fascinating to hear his brain at work; it seems to be veering in 20 different directions at once. Even when he’s feeling lighthearted, he’s a breath away from some death threat, and he’s just as likely to interrupt those threats with some kind of joke: “White boy like Boomhauer / Got meds like Doogie Howser / Talk shit, shoot the dookie out him / Real Crip, bring the Tookie out him.” His pop-cultural references can be charmingly goofy; a line like “I dog a bitch like Beethoven” just evokes images of drool flying and Charles Grodin screaming.
But when it’s time to let loose with something genuinely, movingly sad, Greedo doesn’t flinch. Like so many of the best rappers, he can breathlessly and economically channel dark moments and real fear: “I remember robbing Pisas every other Friday / I remember money house, I’m selling out of molly / I remember in Atlanta, talking pounds at Follies / I remember laying down, bullets in my body.” And I don’t know what, exactly, is driving Greedo when he makes some of the melodic decisions he makes. On opening track “Drippin,” he stretches out a garden-variety line — “skinny nigga but my pockets fatter” — and transforms it into something strange and guttural and instinctive, stretching out the second syllable of “fatter” until it’s way past the breaking point, turning it into a primal scream.
On recent mixtapes, Greedo has shown a total lack of restraint, cramming on way too many songs. Purple Summer, from 2016, had 40 songs over two hours; last year’s relatively sparse Money Changes Everything was 33 songs over 95 minutes. But The Wolf Of Grape Street is Greedo’s first release on an actual label — Alamo Records, the new imprint from 300 Entertainment co-founder Todd Moscowitz — and it’s the album he needed to release now, when his buzz is just cresting. It’s an hour long — excessive, but not by Greedo’s standards. It moves among sounds and moods fluidly. It just sounds right.
There aren’t many guests, but the ones who do show up complement Greedo nicely. SOB x RBE’s Yhung T.O.’s relatively straightforward singsong rapping makes Greedo sound even more out-there, while OMB Peezy’s Alabama honk bounces beautifully off of Greedo’s zoned-out bounce. My favorite guest is the previously unknown-to-me Ketchy The Great, who comes from the erratic DMX/RBX guttural-bark style and who steals every moment he gets. (The way he clamps down on the word “vultures” is glorious.)
But all the guests are supporting players, and Greedo comes off as a star. He has a rare gift; when he’s rapping, or singing, or sing-rapping, everything around him sounds like it’s melting. Present-day street-rap can sometimes sound like an aesthetic dead end, like something that hems in artists rather than allowing them to break out. But Greedo uses it as a launching pad, showing just how far its limits stretch. He’s special.
The Wolf Of Grape Street is out now on Alamo. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Mount Eerie’s spare, unrelenting bereavement memoir Now Only.
• Hot Snakes’ shit-ripping post-hardcore reunion Jericho Sirens.
• The Decemberists’ arena-synthpop makeover I’ll Be Your Girl.
• Yo La Tengo’s blissfully sedate There’s A Riot Going On.
• Caroline Says’ swirling, psychedelic indie rocker No Fool Like An Old Fool.
• Dungen & Woods collaborative LP Myths 003.
• Air member JB Dunckel’s solo album H+.
• Bishop Nehru’s DOOM/Kaytranada-produced rap marathon Elevators: Acts I & II.
• DJ Premier and Royce Da 5’9″‘s second team-up album PRhyme 2.
• Bichkraft’s sinewy, noisy, Carson Cox-produced 800.
• Erica Eso’s swirling, frenzied 129 Dreamless GMG.
• Stone Temple Pilots’ self-titled new-singer-added reboot.
• Sorority Noise’s acoustic reworking LP YNAAYT.
• The Jack Antonoff-produced Love, Simon soundtrack.
• Jouska’s From Elson To Emmett EP.