Moneybagg Yo Is Rap’s Reigning Blue-Collar Journeyman
The love-as-drug song has been a pop-music cliché since at least 1938, when Billie Holiday recorded “You Go To My Head.” This makes sense. The buzzy, fluttery, fleeting feeling of being newly in love is one of pop’s great subjects, and it’s hard to find too many other sensations that can even be compared to that feeling. Again and again, pop musicians have gone back to describing that feeling as a high: Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug,” Huey Lewis’ “I Need A New Drug,” Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love,” the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face.” It’s a little more rare that we actually hear someone singing a love song to a drug, but one song like that is emerging as one of 2021’s omnipresent rap bangers.
“Wockesha,” from the Memphis rap journeyman Moneybagg Yo, isn’t exactly a clever song. The central conceit — Moneybagg Yo sounds like he’s talking about a girl, but he’s really talking about lean — wears itself out by the time you get done hearing the song for the first time. What sets “Wockesha” apart isn’t the extended metaphor; it’s the apparent sincerity. Moneybagg really does come across as someone in thrall to a feeling that he only gets from a dangerous substance: “Ring around the rosie/ Cup full of OZ’s/ I hope I don’t OD/ She keep sayin’, ‘Pour me.'” Near the end of the song, Moneybagg softly mutters that “this shit toxic.” But the song’s central sample — the lush and pillowy keyboard riff from DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” the same sample that famously drove Biggie’s “One More Chance” — is a sound that conditions us to think about actual romantic love. So when Moneybagg’s voice softly breaks while he describes what this cup does to him, it sounds like it’s real.
Nobody counted on “Wockesha” becoming a hit. The song still doesn’t have a video, even though it’s crushed Moneybagg’s actual recent single, the more traditional flex “Time Today,” on the charts. People keep streaming “Wockesha,” and “Wockesha” keeps lingering. “Wockesha,” I have learned, sounds really good in a car. That might be Moneybagg Yo’s secret. Moneybagg Yo might just be the kind of rapper whose music sounds good in a car.
Moneybagg Yo does not demand your attention. He never has. Moneybagg sometimes does the Auto-Tune singsong thing, but not enough to make it a hallmark of his style. He’s technically sound and perfectly capable of talking shit, but he’s not exactly flashy. He sometimes raps about addiction or depression or struggle — his new album is literally called A Gangsta’s Pain — but he never sounds overwhelmingly sad. He never sounds overwhelmingly happy, either. Instead, he sounds present. He’s just always there — a utility player who can jump on a track and handle his 16 bars without drama. When Swizz Beatz was putting together DMX’s posthumous album Exodus, he somehow lost out on the Pop Smoke verse that was supposed to appear on the song “Money Money Money.” So Swizz simply went out and got a Moneybagg Yo verse to replace that Pop Smoke one. Moneybagg Yo played fill-in just fine. He can always do that.
Moneybagg Yo is someone who operates in a tradition. He’s a solid, dependable Memphis rap hardass. Over the years, there have been a lot of those. Moneybagg’s own label boss Yo Gotti is probably the king of them. Right now, Memphis is full of gruff, forbidding, rock-solid rappers who work a generally similar style: Young Dolph, Pooh Shiesty, Key Glock, Big30. I like all of those rappers, but I don’t really regard any of them as characters. Usually, you have to be a character to become a rap star. But Moneybagg Yo has prospered. He’s been working for the better part of a decade, made a handful of dependable bangers, and stuck around without any excess level of drama. He’s cranked out music at a steady pace, and if that music has never been spectacular, it’s never been bad, either. And as a result, he’s gradually ascended. These days, Moneybagg Yo is a big deal, and there’s something quietly surprising about that.
A Gangsta’s Pain came out late in April and debuted at #1. A week later, it fell to #2, behind that cursed DJ Khaled album. Then, a week after that, when the release calendar was slow, Moneybagg went right back up to #1. After two months, the album still sits comfortably in the top 10. “Wockesha” and “Time Today” are both hanging around in the middle rungs of the Hot 100, and their momentum doesn’t seem to be stalling. Moneybagg isn’t suddenly doing BTS numbers or anything, but each new album has improved on the performance of the one before it, and now he’s a name. As a name, he is inevitably going to find himself in some goofy situations.
At the Floyd Mayweather/Logan Paul boxing match a couple of weeks ago, Moneybagg Yo walked Mayweather to the ring, rapping “Time Today.” This is where we are as a society: A famous shithead boxing great, on his way to beat up a YouTube guy, being flanked by a workmanlike rapper who’s talking about “she ate the dick through my underwear.” Is anyone comfortable with this? This shit is weird.
A Gangsta’s Pain is a slog of an album. It’s Moneybagg Yo doing all the obvious rap-star stuff, making songs with Pharrell and Future and whoever else, saying all the expected things in all the expected ways. I wasn’t surprised once while listening to it. But when “Wockesha” and “Time Today” come on, I don’t turn them off. They hit. Maybe that’s just how things work. Maybe if you make enough songs that hit, if you stick around for long enough without imploding or falling victim to any of the perils involved with rap careers, then you win. Maybe Moneybagg Yo has won. I hope so. I always liked him. But now that he’s won, I hope he makes some interesting music.
1. OMB Bloodbath – “Don’t Do It”
I am a simple man. If you take an exciting, charismatic rapper and surround her with triumphal synth-horns and machine-gun snares and sticky chanted hooks, then I will be happy. “Don’t Do It” makes me happy.
2. Gucci Mane – “Posse On Bouldercrest” (Feat. Sir Mix-A-Lot & Pooh Shiesty)
Gucci Mane is 41 years old, which means he’s old enough to remember that Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1988 single “Posse On Broadway” is an eternal banger that will always sound good. Gucci has also remained famous enough that he can take that song and make it sound like a hit in 2021. As a fellow 41-year-old rap dork, I salute him.
3. Chief Keef – “Hadouken”
Sosa always struck me as more of an M. Bison type than a Ryu guy, but I’m happy to be wrong. In related news, this song is beautifully ugly. More rappers should try to add a few bars of just heavy breathing to the middle of a track.
4. Pink Siifu – “Lng Hair Dnt Care”
Pink Siifu is one of my favorite parts of the recent wave of lo-fi DIY rap music, mostly because he’s so good at sounding like he’s underwater.
5. The Cool Kids – “Hibachi” (Feat. Key! & Nikki Sweets)
After Widows, I have a tough time listening to the Cool Kids without imagining Daniel Kaluuya menacingly staring at Sir Michael Rocks and then shooting him in the head. That’s a very real obstacle, and yet this track is an undeniable neck-jerker.