For Rap Fans, 03 Greedo’s Release Is A Respite From So Much Bad News

Dewanne Buckmire

For Rap Fans, 03 Greedo’s Release Is A Respite From So Much Bad News

Dewanne Buckmire

For the past five years, Jason Jamal Jackson, better known as 03 Greedo, has been an inmate in the Thomas Havins unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The Los Angeles rapper is scheduled to be released this Thursday — exceptional news for a city whose rap scene has been through a maddening amount of tragedy since he received his unwelcome sentence for drug and weapons charges. In the late 2010s the Los Angeles rap scene, once known for its pristine and tidy gangster rap popularized by Dr. Dre, became more dionysian and underground. Greedo, along with the late, great Drakeo The Ruler, led the disruptively subversive moment with chameleonic artistry and irreverence for what LA rap was supposed to sound like. Once the fountainhead of gangster rap, the city’s most vital music during the Trump presidency could trace its ethos, flows, and melodies to the Bay Area or Baton Rouge.

Like Drakeo, Greedo recorded frantically because he had to – his livelihood was set to be stripped from him. With a lengthy sentence looming due to gun and drug charges from a traffic stop in Texas, Greedo churned out a wealth of great releases in the mid to late 2010s. Because he banked so much music before going to prison, the steady stream of new projects continued for a while after he was locked up in 2018. It had slowed down significantly in recent years, but on Monday, Greedo returned to the spotlight with the announcement of his pending release and his new mixtape, Free 03. The Wolf of Grape Street is returning to the rap game with his musical rap sheet still intact.

If Drakeo was the rapper with the strange idiolect, then 03 Greedo was a paranoid nasal voice. Taking cues from rappers like Baton Rouge’s Lil Boosie and Kevin Gates, Greedo made sensitive music for the wickedest of lads. Such music turned Greedo into a folk hero. He reached from the phlegm held up in his chest, and sang tales of betrayal, distress, and bombastic paranoia. To see him was to see a bleeding heart; his voice was delicate, but it traveled. Boy, did it travel far. Greedo’s music is a proven byproduct of the idea that singing voices do not have to be classically trained to be otherwise effective. His voice is a hoarse longing for pain, enunciated with a mumble only rivaled by the nicely dressed alien, Young Thug. Take “Bacc To Jail,” a mournful plaint that suggests how conscious he is of his dire situation: “If I just came too hard/ Would you lie to a nigga?/ And say that you loved me, I’m who you fuck with/ Never left when it was ugly, that’s how I know you love me.”

The first track on Free 03 opens with a recording of a call made to Greedo while in jail. It’s a sermon of sorts in which he name-drops rappers that have died while he’s been in jail: “Long live Nipsey Hussle, long live PnB Rock, long live Drakeo The Ruler, long live Takeoff, long live my boy Young Dolph.” Greedo has been in jail since even before Nipsey’s murder. There’ve been so many deaths in rap since that one that it feels like it happened in another life, makes Greedo’s voicemail feel like a speech from the chaplain.

The tape, produced entirely by DJ Mustard associate Mike Free, is ominous and acidic, dominated by hi-hats and snap-snares that pop as quick as a jab to the nose. Free is the most valuable collaborator on this project, just as Mustard was for 2019’s Still Summer In The Projects. A psychedelic sound floods the beat on “No Free Features,” which features a posthumous Drakeo verse. Here, Greedo is taut – a far cry from the brash verses that occupy his previous Drakeo collaborations. (“Out The Slums” might still be the best song to come out of Los Angeles in the past 10 years). “You ain’t never really been to prison,” Greedo raps. “Hanging with you ain’t beneficial.”

It wouldn’t be correct to say that Greedo is fully back. As was the case with the records Drakeo The Ruler released while incarcerated, Free 03 sounds a tad bit rushed. Greedo allegedly tracked over 2,000 songs before he went away, and some of that material ended up here along with tracks recorded from prison. The mix of new and old material strikes an awkward balance, and due to recording verses over the phone, in some of the most dynamic vocal work on the record, Greedo is muffled, like someone talking through a N95 mask.

It might take him a while to damp the kinks in his flow. At his best, Greedo devastatingly combined mundane concepts with details that were sure to remind you of how desperate he was for tranquility. “Beat That Thang Down” from The Wolf Of Grape Street is a casual sex song with lyrics about his worry that business partners are setting him up. This tape doesn’t contain much of that ying-yang. Instead, it is straightforward – possibly the first edition of what will be a run of new music once Greedo is finally freed. “Today” sounds like a Young Dolph song with its bounce and war chants. Closer “If I Die” is performed with the weary awareness that Greedo might go out like Drakeo — who was murdered at an LA hip-hop festival in 2021 — haunted by the possibility of reaching your demise before you reach your zenith. This is something that Greedo has seen all too much and knows so intimately.

It’s weighty to have this Greedo mixtape out at this time. For rap fans, the past 12 months have been agonizing. Greedo getting out represents an appreciated present in the time of unrest and violence. Black men like 22-year-old Big Scarr and pioneers like 44-year-old Gangsta Boo dying early is a part of the injustices of capitalism. There’s no end in sight — only a somberness and a recognition of the limitations of music. For all the divine power of talent that hip-hop brings, the stark reality of the neighborhoods rappers inhabit, the fragility of Black life (both violently and physiologically), and the racism and complexities of the criminal justice system has given us much to ponder in our consumption of rap music. But pondering can wait for now, even though it’s a necessity. A rapping man and his family caught a break. Despite the fact that he never stopped releasing music when he was inside, Greedo’s release from prison is both a showing of what listeners lost when he went away and a distraction from the grave heaviness we’ve had to endure as fans lately. 03 Greedo is free again. This is great news. Let’s see what comes of it.


Gabe 'Nandez – "Thun" Freestyle

‘Nandez is excellent here. His voice is so gravelly. “When I die/ I’m one of those niggas people gon’ tell about/ When you die, is it over or do you get bailed out/ I’m a soldier, I know what them L’s about.” Gabe raps like people should be following him in the streets of New York while he does it.

Rx Papi & RXK Nephew – "Still Gone Robb You"

“Every day I was in jail, I thought of breaking out,” says Rx Papi. Glad that him and Nephew will continue to make music together.

Luh Tyler – "I Got A Dollar"

Those who value distinctive vocals will be as obsessed with Luh Tyler’s voice as I am. It is both the voice of an 8-year-old and a 38-year-old. His pitch is high and his timbre has a swing to it that rivals anyone in the state of Florida. Best new rapper.

BabyTron - "Mr. Hanky"

One of the more dynamic beats that Tron has ever rapped over, this song is the lead single from Bin Reaper 3: New Testament, his new album coming out this week. “Aston Martin with the horses, pull off in the yee-haw.” Tron remains fun.

Rio Da Yung OG – "Still Shit Talking"

The amount of punchlines Rio Da Yung OG uses is demonstratively stark. “2 9’s will hit him 7 times like July 18,” says Rio. This man can rap. Free Rio.

Young Dolph - "Woah"

There is nothing quite like the voice of Young Dolph – the monotone Memphis drawl he had should endure for decades and beyond. Paper Route Frank is an example of what we lost when Dolph was murdered. Memphis’ bleeding heart has another good album here, but he isn’t here to reap the benefits from it.

MIKE - "As 4 Me"

“I ain’t go to prison for my brother and my sister,” says MIKE, on this cut from his new Beware Of The Monkey. MIKE’s voice has weight to it, and his loops are cloudy and warm. His music is cuddly.

Real Boston Richey - "Certified Dripper 2" (Feat. Moneybagg Yo)

Good to hear Moneybagg Yo with a real brawler like Boston Richey. Yo’s voice is like syrup — it sticks through any beat.

Icewear Vezzo - "Certified" (Feat. Future & DJ Drama)

Future is in frisky mode, as he is known to be in, here. It’s excellent.


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