You don’t upstage Drake. It’s just not done. You might rap better than Drake on a song. Drake himself seems to have no problem with that. He keeps inviting rappers who might outrap him onto songs. But as far as sheer outsized movie-star magnetism, nobody is outgunning Drake. He is King Shit in the charisma category, and nobody’s really close. Consider the “God’s Plan” video. An adorable child in a wheelchair, Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown doing his best head-bobble dance, an entire high school full of amped-up teenagers — Drake outshines all of them. But the “Look Alive” video is another story. “Look Alive” is the moment that a skinny kid in a Green Day shirt, dancing spasmodically in a Memphis high-school gym, upstaged Drake. That was the moment most of us met BlocBoy JB, and he was doing the unthinkable.
It’s been a long, long time since a rapper got famous for his dancing. Once upon a time, it was a key part of the equation. Big Daddy Kane was crisp and athletic, a James Brown for a new jack swing era, and even his backup dancers Scoob and Scrap were minor stars. Heavy D had the liquid moves of a man half his size. MC Hammer was always a better dancer than a rapper, and he found ways to turn his gifts into arena-sized showmanship, at least for a little while. But dancing ability stopped being crucial for rap stardom sometime in the early ’90s. By 2005, Terror Squad’s “Lean Back” — a dance-craze song about refusing to dance — hit #1. There were exceptions. Mid-’00s Atlanta produced minor stars like D4L’s Fabo and Dem Franchize Boyz’ Parlae who had their own signature moves. Soulja Boy got famous giving YouTube dance tutorials. But BlocBoy JB still feels like a mold-breaker, a man who’s becoming a star just by being so much fucking fun to watch.
BlocBoy, a 21-year-old Memphis native, says that he came up with his viral “Shoot” dance while fucking around in the mirror. That’s perfect. In videos, BlocBoy comes off as a little kid with so much energy that he doesn’t know what to do with it. He flies across the ground, legs kicking high, limbs flailing everywhere, a marvel of total motion. In that “Look Alive” video, Drake tries to keep up. He does his best. He can’t.
“Look Alive” seems, on some level, more like a Drake song than a BlocBoy one. Drake’s got the first verse and the chorus, and I’m guessing that a lot of radio stations, particularly the ones in the northeast, cut the track off before BlocBoy’s voice even shows up. On the other hand, the track’s got a simple, hammering beat from Tay Keith, BlocBoy’s regular producer, and a grainy low-budget video from Ali Productions, BlocBoy’s regular director. It’s the umpteenth example of Drake’s A&R savvy — his ability to spot an emerging rapper or trend before the rest of the world does and absorb it into his dominant self. But something like “Look Alive” was inevitable.
BlocBoy hasn’t been making music for long. He and Tay Keith have been fucking around with music together since both were teenagers, but Who Am I, BlocBoy’s first mixtape, came out in 2016. So did the video for “No Chorus Part 6,” BlocBoy’s first real viral hit; it’s the one where he plays air guitar on an assault rifle. BlocBoy’s already come a long way as a rapper since “No Chorus Part 6.” Where that song was all rushed breathlessness, he’s since learned to slow down and focus his flow, using his Memphis drawl in focused and deliberate ways.
These days, he sounds like Young Dolph’s excitable younger brother. He raps a lot about money and guns and robberies, but you can tell he’s having fun. And that exuberance comes through clearly on “Look Alive.” Everything Drake says sounds like a hook, but plenty of what BlocBoy says is just as catchy: “I’m a long way from sitting in the nosebleed / Now a nigga on the floor, talking to the athletes / Now I’m so close to the game that I could steal the stat sheet.”
BlocBoy’s done a whole lot in a short period. Between 2016 and 2017, he released six mixtapes. He built up a regional word-of-mouth viral fame. He came up with a bunch of his own dances. Drake was the first big star to notice, but he wasn’t the last. And now we’re in this fun period where we get to see how bigger stars react when they share screens with BlocBoy. Drake tries to dance as hard as BlocBoy. In BlocBoy’s “Rover 2.0″ video, 21 Savage, not exactly the most animated rapper, mostly just looks nervous and awkward, like he’s worried that BlocBoy is going to step on his foot, or that BlocBoy is going to encourage him to dance. “Bad Company,” A$AP Rocky’s new BlocBoy collab, doesn’t have a video yet, but it’s fun to imagine how Rocky will act when he has to pose next to BlocBoy. It’s fun to imagine how everyone in rap will react. Because they’re all going to have to figure it out. They’re all on notice.
1. Sada Baby & Drego – “Bloxk Party”
“Big brick of white look like Brock Lesnar.” “I ain’t never had time for no arguments / Bigass shotgun look like Lauri Markkanen.” “I will fuck the party up with my dance moves / I wanna take me a trip out to Cancun / But I gotta sit still till this bag move.” They know what they’re doing in Detroit. He wasn’t kidding about those dance moves, either.
2. Cardi B – “Be Careful”
We already knew that Cardi knew how to flex. But “Be Careful” proves that she can do relationship-rap with as much force and personality. It’s not “Bodak Yellow,” but it’s an encouraging sign, anyway. Also, that beat sounds like something that Big Pun would’ve once annihilated, so Cardi is keeping the Bronx rap continuum alive.
3. Denzel Curry – “Sumo”
The fake Lil Jon adlibs on “Sumo” really underline something that should already be obvious: Denzel Curry would’ve thrived during the mid-’00s crunk era. He’s thriving now, too, and maybe the SoundCloud-rap/crunk connection demands further investigation.
4. Westside Gunn – “Easter Gunnday 3″ (Feat. Benny & Keisha Plum)
Westside Gunn says he’s not doing another one of these next year. But we must protect our proud Easter traditions!
5. Smokepurpp & Murda Beatz – “Do Not Disturb” (Feat. Lil Yachty & Offset)
The way the music industry has absorbed SoundCloud rap, defanging it and cleaning up its aesthetic while looking the other way on all these SoundCloud rappers’ legit horrifying criminal charges, has been depressing to witness. But on the other hand, this slaps.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
If I ever get an audio book I want Mannie Fresh to do the intro like "Readers and writers, writin' ass readers and readin' ass writers, literati, twitterati and paparazzi, it's about to go down like Maurice punching Holden, it's about to be a solitary pursuit like Walden"
— Snack Kerouac (@toriimacdaddy) March 25, 2018