Sheck Wes has put New York hip-hop back on the map. Although Playboi Carti arguably revived New York’s sound, Wes has taken it to a new level. Mudboy stands out as one of the strongest records to come out this year.
Mudboy‘s unique sound makes it special. While the record features characteristics of the popular hip-hop sound of today, such as high-pitched auto-tune, add libs, and pusher anthems, Wes doesn’t let these elements define his sound. Mudboy isn’t filled with over-produced songs that disguise his voice. Instead, he sounds gritty, edgy, and fresh. A lot of credit goes to his incredibly talented producers, New York’s Lunchbox and Miami’s Redda.
The beats are dark and haunting. They symbolize the real-life scenario of being stuck in the hood with an uncertain future. Wes, who hails from Harlem, had been pursuing the other common path taken by young men in the hood—playing in the NBA. That is where his breakout hit “Mo Bamba,” named after the Orlando Magic Rookie Mohammed Bamba, comes from. He and Bamba played ball together in New York. However, after missing an important game to model at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion show at Madison Square Garden, Wes’s hoop dreams started to take a backseat. Fortunately for Wes, his hip-hop career has launched him into the spotlight.
The opening track, “Mindfucker,” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Wes raps to a medium paced, dark beat that is defined by its snare hits. His voice sounds natural and effortless as he starts rapping, “late night, I’m prolly moving low-key.” This segues into the more traditional modern hip-hop song, “Live Sheck Wes,” which shows off his versatility. It’s a track where Wes proves he can be a DIY SoundCloud rapper as well as a gritty Harlem gangster rapper. The production opens with a high pitched piano sound that resembles that of the video game production popularized by producer Pi’erre Bourne. The hook plays repeatedly, dominating the track. Within the first five and a half minutes of Mudboy, Wes shows you he is not a one-trick pony. He even draws some influence from Kid Cudi, doing a similar hum as Cudi on “Jiggy with the shit.”
The album’s height is, of course, the hottest track in hip-hop right now: “Mo Bamba.” The track opens with a simple piano lick that and the main beat that plays over it is characterized by a deep, heavy bass sound. This creates an interesting combination of sounds that somehow works incredibly well. On “Mo Bamba,” Wes is at his most produced, but manages not to overdo it. It is just enough to keep him from sounding flat on the hook. “Wes” finds his inner SoundCloud rapper at 1 minute and 44 seconds, when he changes his tone to a higher register. This transition crafts a sound that is familiar to modern hip-hop fans without ruining the song or coming off as played out.
Mudboy is the first hip-hop record to come out this year that sounds refreshingly new. Despite having elements of popular hip-hop, Sheck Wes doesn’t rely on these elements. While there isn’t another banger like “Mo Bamba” on Mudboy, it does have a cohesive set of tracks that show you who Sheck Wes is.
COVER PHOTO: Complex