Glorilla And The Art Of The Underground Rap Hit

Garrett Bruce

Glorilla And The Art Of The Underground Rap Hit

Garrett Bruce

By all rights, Future should’ve fallen the fuck off long ago. It’s not that Future is old or that he’s been famous for a long time. It’s that Future came in with a sound that changed the world, evolved his persona and his aesthetic, and then finally fell into a rut where he’s been repeating himself for, what, half a decade? Over the course of pop history, artists tend to lose relevance when they fall into that kind of rut. But that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. Future is bigger than he’s ever been. In the past year, he’s racked up two #1 pop hits — one on a Drake song, one with Drake on his song. This is how things go now. The A-list is fully ossified, and the people at the top of the game are not especially interested in letting newer artists threaten those spots — at least unless those new artists are just lesser versions of the already-famous artists, like how Jack Harlow is a distant echo of Drake. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sometimes, it’s not that way.

Part of the beauty of rap music, especially in the internet age, is that exciting, unpredictable things can happen. A random two-minute crime-life freestyle, a song with no chorus and no redeeming social value, can surf some mysterious zeitgeist waves and cross over to a general audience outside of the rapper’s city. It can go global. It can make somebody rich. Things might be stagnant in the genre’s upper ranks, but rap still has a thriving underground. Really, it has thousands of thriving undergrounds — different regions and styles and sub-subgenres — and something can always emerge out of one of them and catch fire.

Right now, something like that is happening. At the end of last month, Memphis producer Hitkidd and rapper Glorilla posted the video for their song “FNF (Let’s Go),” and it’s pretty much everything I want from an underground rap hit. Hitkidd had been a known quantity for at least a little while. He’s not a name or anything, but he’s made beats for people like Megan Thee Stallion and Bladee. He’s also made a lot of music with a lot of Memphis rappers, rappers like Glorilla. I’d never heard of Glorilla a week ago, but she already looks like a star.

“FNF (Let’s Go)” is about a subject that’s about as old as pop music itself: Glorilla is newly unattached, and she’s ready to party: ” I’m S-I-N-G-L-E again/ Outside hanging out the window with my ratchet-ass friends.” Glorilla says that she’s hopping out at red lights, twerkin’ on them headlights, and the video shows exactly that. It’s just a whole bunch of women wilding out, getting drunk, having fun. Someone slaps a friend’s ass with one hand while holding a baby with the other. Someone else pours liquor directly down Glorilla’s throat. On the hook, a whole bunch of women scream “Let’s gooooo!” all at once. It’s one of those songs where you can sing along by the time the hook comes around a second time. And it seems like Glorilla’s got more where that came from.

Glorilla’s been posting music online for a couple of years, though she’s never made anything that’s gone crazy like “FNF (Let’s Go)” before. Last year, Hitkidd released Set The Tone, an EP of posse cuts that he recorded with a whole mob of female rappers from Memphis, and all of them are talented. Listening to that EP, Glorilla doesn’t even necessarily stand out. (Slimeroni is probably my favorite; I love her voice.) But Glorilla’s got the ability to convey a whole lot of personality in her voice, and when you combine that with a big hook and a thundering Memphis beat, you’ve really got something.

In less than a month, the “FNF (Let’s Go)” video has seven million views. That number will go up. As I write this, it’s one of the 10 most-watched videos on YouTube — right up there with Kendrick Lamar and NBA YoungBoy and Future and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” YouTube is still the most popular streaming service in the world, and this song is an anthem. Right now, I have to imagine that major labels are tripping over each other to throw vast piles of money at Glorilla. Things like that are happening with other artists, too. Consider the case of SleazyWorld Go.

SleazyWorld Go grew up between Kansas City and Grand Rapids. You could probably count the number of nationally renowned rappers from both Kansas City and Grand Rapids on one hand, depending how deep you want to go with Tech N9ne’s Strange Music roster. (If you google Grand Rapids rappers, one of the first names that comes up is, no shit, Anthony Kiedis.) It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that the “Sleazy Flow” video couldn’t have cost more than $30 or that it’s pure outsider music. “Sleazy Flow” is a hit. Since SleazyWorld Go posted the video on YouTube back in October, it’s gotten millions of views, and plenty of more-established rappers — NLE Choppa, Yungeen Ace, 30 Deep Grimeyy — have since used the “Sleazy Flow” beat to talk their own shit. SleazyWorld Go is now an Island Records recording artist.

It’s hard to imagine SleazyWorld Go becoming a mainstream rap star, but stranger things have happened. In any case, there’s enough energy surrounding “Sleazy Flow” for a major label to take a chance on an artist like SleazyWorld. Hits are hard to come by, and major labels can’t will a hit into being. SleazyWorld Go already made a hit — one that crossed over to a bigger audience on its own, without anyone pushing for its spot on certain playlists or convincing bigger artists to do Instagram posts about it. (Of course, now that SleazyWorld is on a major, “Sleazy Flow” is on certain playlists, and bigger artists are posting about it on Instagram.) That can happen. It’s happening all the time these days. It just happened, for instance, with the Chicago rapper PGF Nuk.

PGF Nuk has been making music for a few years, and his style calls back to the early days of Chicago drill. Most of his tracks come from producer Fatman Beatzz, who’s got a gift for spacey slow-motion tracks with synth melodies that could’ve come from horror-movie scores. In October, around the same time that SleazyWorld Go first posted his “Sleazy Flow” video, Nuk released the video for his anthemic track “Wassup.” Nuk was a presence before “Waddup,” and he had a few videos with views in the millions. But “Waddup” took Nuk to a different level. It hasn’t gotten him a major-label deal yet — or, if it has, then the deal is currently being kept quiet. But “Waddup” did land Nuk on the radar of Polo G, one of the biggest stars to come out of Chicago in the past few years. Polo jumped on a “Waddup” remix and showed up in a new video for the song. Polo’s verse on the remix is strong; it gives him a chance to show that he can do primordial drill shit as well as the sad singsong stuff that made him famous. But Polo doesn’t leave as much of an impression as Nuk, whose snarling charisma somehow comes through even more strongly when he’s got an actual star on the track with him.

Glorilla, SleazyWorld Go, and PGF Nuk may or may not become mainstream rap stars. For SleazyWorld and Nuk, their videos suggest street lives that might make the transition to fame difficult. (This column originally had more about both of them, but I don’t feel like anyone needs to read too much about videos full of guns today.) Glorilla might work in a mainstream context; it’s way too early to tell. The artists who make these viral up-from-nothing hits don’t always become stars. They don’t even usually become stars. But the fact that this can still happen is a good thing. It means that something, at least, is working the way it’s supposed to work.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. BabyTron – “Emperor Of The Universe”
BabyTron has a few tracks like this — pure rap exercises where he goes in over a quick succession of immediately recognizable beats — but he’s never done it like this before. This is crazy. When the “Faneto” beat lands, my heart soars.

2. RXK Nephew & Xanman – “My Hoe Is Your Hoe”
The key to RXK Nephew, I have learned, is embracing the chaos. This song has a whole lot of chaos to embrace.

3. Rico Nasty – “Intrusive”
The next step for Rico is going to be just rapping over straight-up drill ‘n’ bass. This song takes her 75% of the way there.

4. Quavo & Takeoff – “Hotel Lobby”
This has to be the most immediate Migos track in a couple of years. If I was Offset, I’d also be mad about getting left out.

5. Taze & LD (67) – “Suge Knight”
I don’t understand how UK drill rappers pick their names. LD (67)? I know he’s a UK drill pioneer, but that’s not a name. That’s a product code. That’s a catalog number. It’s two thirds of a license plate. How’s anyone supposed to remember that? And yet: This goes.

FURIOUS FIVE

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