redveil Is Ready For The World
A couple of weeks ago, the Maryland rapper and producer redveil posted a video with a simple premise: He was about to turn 18, and he wanted some advice. In the clip, we hear the voices of redveil’s slightly-older peers, rappers like Saba and Denzel Curry, ruminating on the things that they wished they’d known at 18 and the things that they already did know. What the rappers actually say isn’t really all that important or revelatory. Instead, the thing about the video that really jumps out is the sense of contemplation. We never hear redveil’s voice in the video. Instead, we see redveil out in nature, staring at a purple sky and at one of those ponds with the fountains in the middle, listening to these people who he admires, thinking about whatever’s ahead of him.
The video has a purpose. It’s not just an art-piece about what it’s like to anticipate adulthood. It’s promo. Last week, redveil turned 18, and on his birthday, he released his new album learn 2 swim. That album title comes from a lyric about what happens when you’re forced to adapt, to learn on the fly: “My brother said you learn how to swim if he throw you in.” All through the album, redveil plays around with that imagery; first single “diving board” — redveil only works in lower-case — is an extended metaphor about standing on the edge of a swimming pool, trying to build up the courage to jump in. In a way, maybe redveil’s whole career, up until now, has been an art-piece about what it’s like to anticipate adulthood.
redveil started rapping and producing when he was 11 years old, and he’s never been shy about his inspirations. The young man grew up listening to Earl Sweatshirt — not even Odd Future Earl, but the scarred-and-searching version of Earl who came back from boarding school to find that he was famous in ways that he didn’t like. You can hear echoes of Earl in just about everything that redveil does on the microphone — the drawling behind-the-beat delivery, the free-drifting cadences, even the creakily weary tone of voice. When redveil names his influences, he mentions Earl alongside other figures who have become stars by artfully presenting their vulnerabilities to the world: Earl, Tyler, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, $uicideboy$. In his own music, redveil does something similar.
There have been plenty of teenage rappers before redveil. Most rappers started out as teenagers. By the time they were out of their teens, redveil role models like Earl Sweatshirt and Denzel Curry had already left a seismic impact on rap in general. But I can’t think of too many rappers who have made a specific state of teenage uncertainty so central to their art. redveil has come out with three albums — all self-released, all entirely self-produced — about looking at the world and trying to imagine what your place in it will be. He sounds exactly like what he is: A supremely smart and talented kid who’s seen too much to be optimistic. On “shoulder,” one of the best songs from learn 2 swim, guest-singer Mekdelawit gently croons a line that might as well be redveil’s mission statement: “Sit and watch my youth wash away/ Wish that I could say that I know things will be OK.”
redveil’s music is just as contemplative as his lyrics. As a producer, redveil likes warmth and clutter. His tracks are full of cymbal-splashes, freaking-out saxophones, and murkily busy live basslines. He samples old soul records in such a way that his songs always sound like they’ve got tons of live musicians playing on them. It’s a trip to hear how the influence of a producer like J Dilla, who died before redveil’s second birthday, filters through figures like Earl Sweatshirt and into redveil’s beatmaking style. redveil’s not a true-schooler, and he’s not afraid of things like trap drum patterns. At his live shows, he asks for moshpits, just like every other rapper in his generational bracket. But redveil’s music is old-soul music, built from artful sample collages and deep drum-machine concentration.
As a lyricist, redveil approaches everything with a healthy skepticism. He’s one of the few rappers I’ve heard discuss capitalism as a scourge rather than a route to personal greatness: “All this capital is fake, they tryn’ distract us with greed/ My n***as hungry due to this classic but fascist regime.” He does long for personal greatness, and he talks about it a lot, but he also talks about the impostor syndrome that can come with that kind of striving: “To this moment, I can’t shake this fucking feeling of pretend/ Like I’m faking every movement that’s gon’ take me to the end.” Much of the time, he’s loose and dreamy, rhapsodizing about the life-giving power of water or about trying to tap into his own willpower. He sounds like an unanswered question. I like that about him.
Stylistically, redveil fits into the recent wave of thoughtfully hazy lo-fi rappers like Mavi and Navy Blue. But redveil’s style is a little brighter and more accessible, and it’s already connecting. The first two redveil albums came out during the pandemic, and they found a big enough audience that redveil’s first proper live show was in front of thousands of people last summer at a Utah festival that Post Malone headlined. Right now, redveil is on tour with Freddie Gibbs, Zack Fox, and MIKE. Those rappers are all much more established than redveil, but only Gibbs has more Spotify listeners. People are hearing themselves in redveil’s music, and I wonder if there are already younger kids internalizing his style the way he internalized Earl Sweatshirt as a kid. He might’ve just turned 18, but redveil is already a career artist. Maybe the rest of us should be asking him for advice.
1. Megan Thee Stallion – “Plan B”
This song seems to be getting a lot of attention for its Coachella premiere and for the way it plays into Megan’s whole career arc, but the thing that really hits me is how funky it is. When Megan says the word “ladies” on the hook, she sounds just like Biggie Smalls. That’s an intentional homage, but how many other rappers have the kind of presence to pull that off?
2. Benzz – “Je M’Appelle”
British rappers have fully transformed drill into shameless party music, and I am not even a tiny bit mad about it. It’s wild that a rapper like Benzz is concerned enough about protecting his identity that he wears a mask in the video for a song that should make him famous.
3. Gabe ‘Nandez – “Cascus”
Gabe ‘Nandez clearly understands exactly what his voice can do. This shit is hypnotic.
4. King Lil Jay – “Bars Of Clout 3”
Chicago’s King Lil Jay spent seven years in prison on a murder charge, and he just got out a few weeks ago. He’s back like he never left, and “Bars Of Clout 3,” a continuation of a series that Jay started in 2014, has all the stormy intensity of a whole different era of Chicago drill.
5. BabyTron – “Type Shit”
“You internet thugging; I ain’t finna type shit, bro/ Adonis, we’ll pull up with that baby Drac/ Charged up off a yerky; bet not try shit, bro/ In Milwaukee, charging Giannis for a pint of Quagy, ayy.” Pardon me while I wipe away this single teardrop.