At the beginning of October, Sheck Wes released his surprise debut album Mudboy. After almost a year of singles, unannounced performances, and a deal with Travis Scott’s record label, the Harlem rapper has officially touched down. Here are my takeaways from one of the year’s most exciting albums:
1. Mudboy is a fun album.
In 2003, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith starred in a cinematic masterpiece called Bad Boys 2. This was the sequel to another great film Bad Boys. The plot isn’t important right now, but basically the entire film revolves around two detectives who bend the rules while trying to keep crime and drugs off the streets of Miami. Essentially, it was all just an excuse to watch two beloved actors tell jokes while driving recklessly, blowing up cars, and shooting at people. It’s two and a half hours of adrenaline and questionable ethics and it’s amazing.
In some ways, the Bad Boys films are not at all important to this piece. In other, more important ways, they are actually super relevant That’s because the spirit of Bad Boys perfectly represents the energy of Sheck Wes’ new album. They weren’t trying to be anything more than they were. Like those movies, Sheck Wes knows exactly what his strengths are and he embraces them without hesitation. In 2018, the music landscape is littered with artists pushing the boundaries of “traditional” music. It’s a time when every artist has a concept album, a genre rejecting EP, or a Kanye-produced project. Despite the trend, Wes delivers exactly what he promised: a wild, unapologetic, roller-coaster of an album with incredible production. Wes shines on tracks like “Gmail” and “Kyrie” when he can navigate his own path while the beat follows. While other rappers double up their flows in breathless verses, Wes has no problem letting the music progress while he interjects with ad libs. From Wes’ perspective, the album title is a reference to his journey from the mud to the top of the rap game. In an alternate look, it’s a description of him willingness to get dirty in an industry full of artists who would rather avoid the grittiness of a life barely lived.
2. Sheck Wes’ music is just as versatile as he is.
Sheck Wes has made his mark in several ways. In high school, he was a standout on the court, leading to his friendship with NBA star Mo Bamba. In the fashion world, he’s modelled in campaigns for numerous brands while also walking for Virgil Abloh’s “Off-White” collections. With this being understood, it only made sense that Sheck Wes would bring his full catalog of sounds to the table. The album opens with an airy beat loop that slowly grows deeper as Sheck gains momentum. By the time we get to “Wanted” the mood has shifted countless times already. Like “Mo Bamba” there is an underlying bass that keeps you on edge while Wes chronicles his struggles. For Sheck Wes, there are no limits on him artistically. Lyrically, Mudboy isn’t the most thrilling investment you’ll make this year. The flows, punchlines, and subtleties that we associate with the bigger names in rap are lacking on Mudboy. In spite of his technical ability, Wes still gets his points across with ease. That’s because the real power of Mudboy lies in the raw feelings Wes shares. Line for line, he’s not winning any rap battles, but on “Chippi Chippi” when he raps, “never used to sleep except for when I was eating sleep for dinner” you can feel the exhaustion of a person who is putting their entire heart into making their dream into a reality. With fourteen songs and only 50 minutes, Wes manages to manipulate and mold his sound when necessary without ever losing his way.
3. Sheck Wes is, above all things, a baller.
My favorite sub-genre of music is called “rappers trying to convince us that they could be in the NBA if they wanted.” There’s probably a better name for it, but it’s a bloated category so it deserves a bloated name. The genre has a long and complicated history, from “Ballin’” and “White Iverson” (songs about basketball players) to “I Know I Got Skillz” and “Full Stomach” (songs written by actual professional basketball players). Sheck Wes could easily fit into either one of those categories, but with “Mo Bamba” and “Kyrie” he’s started building a case as one of the best rap hoopers in the game. What’s most impressive is his genuine knowledge of the game. Beyond the song names, his lyrics are immediately entertaining for basketball heads everywhere. They also give a solid idea of what kind of player Wes was in high school. On the album standout, “Gmail” he describes himself as a “legend like Kobe/ scrappy like Sprewell/ Sheck LeKobe Sprewell.” Later on he compares his rookie year in rap to Celtics guard Jayson Tatum. Based on these clues, we can safely assume that Sheck Wes is a quick, scrappy defender with a reliable jumper, amazing finishing ability around the rim, and an impossible will to win. A player with that skill set should have been a lock for the NBA, but I guess we’ll never really know.
4. The hype is real.
Sheck Wes has had a wild twelve months. With “Live Sheck Wes Die Sheck Wes” he created a buzz that spread around the country. By the time he dropped the music video for “Mo Bamba” in January, the buzz had grown so loud that only the most isolated parts of the population were able to ignore his popularity. With Mudboy, Sheck Wes has taken the momentum from these two hits and molded them into a fully realized manifestation of his spirit. It’s hard to imagine that some of this isn’t a result of connection to Travis Scott, who signed him earlier this winter. Like the head of his new label, Wes has created a persona that is almost impossible to decipher. He’s from Harlem, but his rap-rockstar image is has more in common with your favorite Souncloud rapper than anything else coming out of New York right now. Although his rise to fame benefited from the relationships he had built within the world of rap, Mudboy is a completely solo ride into the mind of Sheck Wes. With this album, Wes is unrestricted, open, and triumphant. As far as debut albums go, Mudboy is firing on all cylinders. Angry, loud, and vulnerable at the right times, Mudboy encapsulates everything that Wes is as an artist. He may still be refining his voice as a musician, but the message on Mudboy is loud and clear: Sheck Wes is here to stay.
By: Mike Miller