About a third of the way into 03 Greedo’s gargantuan new album God Level, he wails a question: “If I go back to prison, would you send me some pictures?” It’s not an idle query. “Bacc To Jail” is a wounded, intense song, one that’s not rapped so much as howled. It sounds like digital blues. It’s directed at a woman, one who Greedo hopes will still be there for him if he goes away to prison. Jail hangs over the song like an ambient threat, an inevitability: “I’m tryna hide from hell, I hope I’m making bail / I keep them drugs on scales / Are you gon’ be for real?” And it was an inevitability. The day after he released the album, Greedo turned himself in to start serving a 20-year prison sentence. “Never thought I’d have to retire the year I blew up,” he tweeted ruefully.
Two years ago, sheriff deputies in Potter County, Texas pulled over and arrested Greedo and a friend. They claimed that they smelled weed coming out of the car. In the trunk, they found four pounds of meth and two stolen handguns. Because of those charges, Greedo was looking at a potential life sentence. Eventually, he broke down and took a plea. According to Jeff Weiss, who has been tirelessly chronicling Greedo’s fast rise and faster fall, Greedo could potentially be home a lot sooner. Greedo’s lawyers are hoping that, with good behavior, he could be out of prison in five years. And who knows, maybe Bun B gets elected governor of Texas and commutes his sentence. But right now, we’re looking at an abrupt and tragic end to one of the greatest sustained creative streaks we’ve heard in a long time.
For the past two years, Greedo has been cranking out a ridiculous amount of music. He’s one of those endlessly prolific creative forces that only rap music seems to produce. Like Lil Wayne or Gucci Mane or Young Thug, he lives in the studio, cranking out song after song at a baffling rate, daring anyone to keep up with his output. And like those guys, he’s achieved that level of output basically by ignoring all the rules of his genre. He doesn’t rap on meter. He doesn’t stick with one particular sound or subgenre. Unlike Wayne or Gucci, he’s not even concerned with broadcasting his own cleverness. Instead, he’s a creature of pure feeling, rasping and wailing and ululating on beats. Even in an era when everyone blurs the line between rapping and singing, he treats that line like it doesn’t exist, taking off into gravelly, guttural melodic flight whenever the spirit moves him.
A lot of Greedo’s music sounds like filler. That’s pretty much unavoidable, since there’s so much of it. Sometimes, if you’re disappearing into the vast Greedo YouTube chasm, a song might hit you differently than it did when you first heard it, and you’ll end up hearing things in it that you never heard before, just because some other Greedo song was still rattling around in your head when you first heard it. Greedo tends to prefer cheap, lo-fi beats, maybe operating on the logic that those make the blankest canvases. Or maybe he doesn’t care that much about which music he chooses. Maybe he trusts his own voice to make those tracks special. If that’s the case, he’s usually right.
Back in March, Greedo released The Wolf Of Grape Street, an hour-long bugout that stands as one of the year’s best rap albums. God Level came out about three months later, and it’s even longer and maybe even better. I’m still wrapping my head around God Level, which sprawls over 27 songs and 98 minutes. That’s too long, of course. Like a lot of this year’s rap albums, God Level feels endless. But unlike a lot of them, it doesn’t feel like an attempt to take advantage of streaming tallies. Instead, it’s a full-immersion experience, one that seems to fly off in dozens of different directions while maintaining the same one guy’s wizened seen-it-all perspective. The right way to listen to it is to get lost in it, to let your mind drift with it. It’s a whole lot of different experiences in one.
“Basehead,” then, is thundering 808 minimalism, a song so heavy and stripped down that it could’ve worked 30 years ago. “In My Feelings,” which has absolutely nothing to do with the Drake hit of the same name (and which works harder to justify its title), is a gnarled, wrenching, emotional sex-jam. “Street Life” is a SoundCloud-rap fever dream, like 34-year-old Lil Pump coming back in time to warn 17-year-old Lil Pump about all the horrors that lie ahead of him. And yet each of these different sounds is just a new prism through which Greedo can shine his light. His crackly, wounded honk of a voice always sounds the same, even as he continually finds new things to do with it.
That wasn’t the end of it, either. A few weeks after God Level, when he’d already started his prison sentence, Greedo came out with Porter 2 Grape, a new collaborative EP with the Bay Area rapper Nef The Pharaoh. They make a fascinating pair. Nef is a more pedestrian rapper than Greedo, but they complement each other nicely. Nef is a crisp, clear enunciator and a lively, energetic presence. He projects joy. Greedo projects something else. And when his gloopy, despairing yawp invades Nef’s sharp, clear post-hyphy tracks, he sounds like an agent of chaos, there to blur and warp, to turn the party dark.
Ideally, a rapper as messy and creative and prolific as Greedo would find a way to hone and channel his gifts, to make something concrete and accessible and widely appealing. If Greedo had a few years, maybe that would happen, but I have a hard time picturing it. Greedo’s creative streak overlaps almost exactly with the case that he’s been fighting. If he wasn’t working with prison looming over him like that, maybe Greedo never would’ve found his voice the way that he so clearly has. Maybe he’s been recording so relentlessly because he knew that he wouldn’t be around to provide for the people in his life for long. It’s not going to stop, either. Greedo spent his 25th hour working. He has said that he’s got 600 unreleased songs stored up. Thirteen mixtapes. Maybe the maelstrom can even continue until he comes home.
But whatever becomes of that unreleased music, it feels deeply cruel and shitty to see someone this endlessly creative going to a place where that creativity will not serve him. Talking to Billboard shortly after getting his 20-year sentence, Greedo wouldn’t discuss his verdict: “I don’t wanna talk about that. I don’t wanna wake up and think about that… People are asking me about something that’s going to ruin my life.” Instead, what he wanted to talk about was this: “I’m focused on being the best rapper of this generation.”
1. YBN Cordrae – “Kung Fu”
YBN Cordrae is the first SoundCloud-rap kid I’ve heard who could’ve been in the Pharcyde or Souls Of Mischief. That means his potential is seemingly limitless. This song is a week old, and it’s already huge. Expect it to get huger.
2. Lil Bibby – “Crack Baby”
All music is real. But some music is real. Lil Bibby is 23, but he sounds like he’s at least twice that. On this song, he tells us why.
3. RetcH – “Dubs & Losses” (Feat. Roc Marciano)
Late-night broken-cinderblock boom-bap that doesn’t sound even one tiny bit retro. It’s not ’90s; it’s 90 pieces of broken glass falling on you from five floors up. Roc: “Don’t get your mango split, your Kangol won’t fit / And then I dip like I’m finger-rolling it in.”
4. Quando Rondo – “Rich Homie Rondo” (Feat. Rich Homie Quan)
There’s nothing like the feeling of browsing through WorldStar and encountering genuine beauty.
5. City Girls – “Sweet Tooth”
Drake spends his whole new #1 single cooing to these two Miami rauch queens, wondering if they love him. They spend their new single talking about “pussy so tight it could smoke a Newport.” They win.