Until his debut mixtape landed online this week, almost no one had heard more than one song from Desiigner.
But after signing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music record label, appearing on West’s album The Life of Pablo, and some notoriously erratic behavior when performing, Desiigner is a de facto rap star. With New English, he has the opportunity to prove that he’s more than a one-hit wonder.
If he ever becomes a profitable protege, finds his voice, or flips his "Panda" magic into another hit, however, it’ll have to be later because none of those things happen on this mixtape.
Seemingly out of nowhere—and to the ears of most hip-hop listeners, live from Atlanta—Brooklyn-born rapper Desiigner burst onto the scene late last year. He drew comparisons to Future, who has spent recent years building an influential sound and doing timely collaborations with the most pop(ular) rapper in the world, Drake.
Most of those comparisons consist of people simply mistaking Desiigner for Future. While Future has multiple platinum albums and no less than 15 Billboard-charting singles, he has yet to crack the top 10 of the Hot 100, even with all the help from Drake. Meanwhile, Desiigner sat at the top of the Billboard chart with “Panda” in late April.
To no one's surprise Desiigner apes Future's voice on “Caliber,” an undistinguished trap song where the word “caliber” is repeated a bunch. The following song, “Make It Out,” doesn’t sound like Future karaoke, but instead like Chicago street rapper Lil Bibby—I had to check multiple listings to see if there was an unlisted feature.
The only guest stars on the album are from a relatively unknown Minnesota rapper named King Savage and the current president of West’s label, Pusha T.
It’s hard to tell whether Pusha T (a star in his own right as half of the successful 2000s duo the Clipse) is just a stand-in boss or if West simply got tired of running a record label and delegated everything to his next most senior employee. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be much direction on New English besides the name, which is a pretty good title from a rapper who mumbles lots of non-sequiturs. None of the songs on the tape seem finished, from the 40-second “Monsters & Killers” to the nearly seven-minute-long “Da Day.”
There is no direction on the mixtape, which wouldn’t be that big of a deal except that it was released exclusively through Jay Z’s Tidal streaming service and absolutely none of these songs are good enough to be behind a paywall. At any point during the tape, Desiigner emulates any number of rappers across the South and Midwest despite being from New York City, which makes the tape sound like a compilation of different middling rappers. It’s not that Desiigner is completely devoid of personality. It’s that I couldn’t pick his rap voice out of a lineup, save for those ad-libs where he rolls his Rs.
The things that work for the tape are its length, which clocks in at just over 30 minutes, and the overflowing energy, which is not an insignificant feat. The problem is that the energy doesn’t convert to anything more than a downed power line.
Desiigner rarely sounds laid back, as nearly every line he raps flies out like he just coughed up a hit of PCP. The production always takes a back seat to the lunacy of the delivery. Even if it didn’t, the combination of industry producers or 19-year-old beatmakers with less than 200 followers on SoundCloud never adds up to much.
The teen is easily one of the most confounding rap stars. He may very well be on to something with his mumbling, frenetic, shape-shifting style that perplexes older rappers. On the other hand, much of the rapper’s success could merely stem from West wanting to sample one of his songs and finding that the easiest way to do that was to give him a contract and forget about him, consequences be damned.