Pooh Shiesty Is Already A Star
At this point, you can tell when Gucci Mane gives a shit. It doesn’t happen all that often anymore. It doesn’t have to. Gucci Mane has probably recorded tens of thousands of songs in his career. He’s got dozens of mixtapes to his name. He’s a beloved rap elder who presumably never has to work another day in his life, but he keeps making music. It’s easy for him. His autopilot is still perfectly solid, and so that’s where he generally remains. Every once in a while, though, you can hear Gucci crackle to life again. That’s what happens on Pooh Shiesty’s “Ugly.”
On “Ugly,” Gucci gets that old bounce back in his voice, and his lines gain a certain elasticity that I haven’t heard in a while: “I just Louisville slugged that lil boy like I’m from Kentucky/ The chopper knocked him out his shoes, and now that bitch on crutches/ We don’t call police, get in the streets and get our justice/ Gon’ get past ugly playing with me, that shit gon’ get disgusting.” Gucci sounds like he’s having fun, and he should sound like he’s having fun. Pooh Shiesty, the 21-year-old Memphis rapper who shares the track, is about to make Gucci a whole lot of money, and he’s about to further cement Gucci’s already-established legacy.
Gucci is a great, influential rapper, and there’s also a possibility that he’s the greatest A&R guy in rap history. At various points, Gucci has counted Waka Flocka Flame, Young Thug, and Chief Keef as proteges. He released collaborative mixtapes with Future, Young Dolph, and the Migos when they were all early in their careers. Plenty of star producers got big boosts from working with Gucci: Zaytoven, Mike Will Made-It, Metro Boomin, the entire 808 Mafia. Late one night last year, Gucci cold-DM’ed Pooh Shiesty. Pooh talks about it in his recent Breakfast Club interview. At that point, Pooh was just putting up his own YouTube videos in Memphis, resisting all invitations from rival Memphis rap barons Yo Gotti and Young Dolph. Pooh still sounds like he can’t believe it. He calls Gucci “a genius.”
Gucci didn’t have to be a genius to hit up Pooh Shiesty, and he didn’t have to be a genius to sign him. He just had to keep a close eye on the rap underground, and he had to know when something was going to work. Pooh Shiesty was going to work. Pooh only started making music a couple of years ago, but the potential was already right there. Pooh looks, sounds, and moves like a big-deal rapper. He’s a skinny young man with a bright smile and heavy-lidded eyes, and he’s got a classic Memphis ability to rap gnarly gutter shit without sounding remotely bothered about it. On his tracks, Pooh talks about street vendettas and specific models of guns with conversational ease, his thick accent making everything sound blurrier. Pooh says that he’s always got his guard up, but he always sounds perfectly at home. That’s a star.
When Southern street-rappers reach a certain level of fame, they’ve usually put in years of steady grinding. You’ll see someone’s name and click through, and they’ll already have a handful of mixtapes. That’s not the case with Pooh Shiesty. Pooh made the deal with Gucci soon after that first DM, and he put out his debut mixtape Shiesty Season last week. It’s about to be huge. A couple of days into the year, Pooh dropped the video for his Lil Durk collab “Back In Blood,” and the song is already a smash.
“Back In Blood” is a simple song — an eerie piano loop, a heavy drumbeat, a weirdly hypnotic hook about welcoming someone else’s vengeance. Pooh’s taunt is Clint Eastwood levels of laconic: “They ain’t got nowhere to go, I shot up everywhere they was/ Yeah, you know we took that shit from you, come get it back in blood.” The track pulls Durk out of his usual melodic languor, into a realm of fire-eyed intensity. Bits and pieces of the song get stuck in my head for hours at a time. (Right now, it’s “Pooh Shiesty, that’s my dog! But Pooh, you know I’m really shiesty!”) The song is a ready-made anthem. Right now, “Back In Blood” is at #37 on the Hot 100. It’ll go higher.
None of the other tracks on Shiesty Season have been sticking with me like “Back In Blood,” but none of them need to. The mixtape is a low-stakes but satisfying bit of business. In a lot of ways, Pooh Shiesty is a throwback — an effortless trap-music shit-talker who doesn’t seem like he wants to sing or to cross over into other genres. Pooh has a pocket, and he stays there. For someone who talks so much about violence, Pooh’s got a soothing tone to his voice; even his “brrrt” ad-lib sounds more like birdsong than like the machine gun it’s clearly supposed to evoke. The beats on Shiesty Season are ominously pretty, built almost entirely on 808s and pianos. It’s a relaxing record.
You can see why Gucci, in particular, would be so eager to sign Pooh. Pooh’s whole sleepy-eyed slur-bounce delivery is directly descended from the playful trap music that Gucci pioneered more than a decade ago. Pooh’s got the same natural confidence, the same effortless flow, and the same ability to make life-or-death lyrics sound breezily casual. Pooh doesn’t have the young Gucci’s livewire charisma, and he’s not as clever or as funny, but give him time. Even Gucci didn’t fully hit his stride until three or four years after “Icy,” and Pooh’s new “Neighbors” video shows that he’s at least willing to go for DaBaby-style silliness.
Shiesty Season is a solid mixtape, not a great one. After a while, it fades pleasantly into the background. Pooh Shiesty sounds best when he’s got other rappers on the track to offset his eternal calm: Durk, Gucci, 21 Savage, childhood friend and frequent collaborator Big30. (Big30 is good, and he gets off some truly slick lines during “Neighbors”: “I had a glock ‘fore I lost my virginity, these niggas envy me/ Hundred shots out my Infiniti, my opps remember me.”) Shiesty Season sounds like the beginning of something, but Shiesty himself already sounds fully-formed — a brand-new rapper who knows exactly who he wants to be.
As with virtually every other exciting new rapper who’s come along in the past few years, Pooh Shiesty is facing serious problems. Back in October, Pooh surrendered to police after a shootout in the Bay Harbor Islands outside Miami, which left two people injured. Pooh was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and armed battery. If Pooh is going to be a star, he can’t be getting into that kind of shit. But if he can keep himself out of that, then he’s already there.
1. Polo G – “GNF (OKOKOK)”
Polo G is so good at bluesy, emotive sing-rap that it’s easy to forget that he’s also a master at fired-up shit-talk. This song, which sounds like prime first-wave Chicago drill, will not let you forget.
2. BaeBae Savo – “Sada BaeBae” (Feat. Sada Baby)
This track has all sorts of cool little melodic bits and pieces, and BaeBae Savo, from Cleveland, has a hard and athletic style, so this song was already good before Sada showed up. Then Sada opens his verse like this: “Scusi, Savo/ I put Percs in ya baby mama asshole.” I kind of blacked out after that, so I don’t really know what happened next. I woke up on a concrete floor in an abandoned warehouse in some city I don’t recognize, and I can’t find my wallet or my phone. Please help me.
3. Conway The Machine & Big Ghost LTD – “Kill All Rats” (Feat. Ransom &
The beat sounds like zombies infesting a spaceship, and all three rappers get at least one face-scrunch moment. Ransom: “I never lost a victim/ The Larkin ripped ’em, then it’s back to the long-nose like I’m Larsa Pippen.” Rome Streetz: “I came up the con way, sellin’ everybody food/ Acid, weed, pills, and hard rock like Mötley Crüe/ Hard-headed, didn’t give a fuck if mommy knew.” Conway: “I’m Thanos with the gauntlet, they know they don’t want this/ You niggas Play-Doh, they gon’ spray your mom’s shit.” These guys should get together more often.
4. Yelawolf & Caskey – “Been A Problem”
Yelawolf really looked like he was about to take over the world for a while, and I don’t know what happened there, other than maybe the Eminem beats and the Kid Rock collabs and the embrace of the Confederate flag that went on way too long. (He’s disavowed it, finally.) But the man can still make fleet, fast, sticky bangers, and this is one. It’s also got an amazing video with a fresh aesthetic. I would like to know more about Caskeys’ decision to get the insides of his ears tattooed.
5. ALLBLACK – “Don’t Get Grabbed” (Feat. Dom The President)
The bass on this track is just disgraceful. It’s an absolute outrage. It should be ashamed.