“Do you love hip-hop, or just really like it?” Ever since freestyle rap legend Supernatural asked me that question (and everyone else at the Rock the Bells Tour) I can’t stop thinking about it. Every day millions of people toil away at jobs they don’t love, maybe even hate. They do it for the paycheck; to support their families, because they have to. Should we expect any different from rappers? For artists coming from impoverished backgrounds hip-hop may be their best employment option; do they have to love hip-hop as an art form? They love feeding their children. Is that enough?
For Florida-based rapper Plies, hip-hop is, “just another form of hustlin,” and his debut album The Real Testament is proof. Plies is a roughly unpolished MC; his delivery is miles away from Luda (the recognized industry standard), and his wordplay is limited (there’s not a metaphor or punchline to be found), but that’s exactly why he stands out in an era of polished and pre-packaged rappers. In today’s hip-hop, “realness” is more important than mic skill, and what could be more real than a rapper who doesn’t want to be a rapper? A hustler who’s hustling hip-hop.
Welcome to the world of Plies.
How do I know Plies doesn’t love hip-hop? He says so right at the beginning of the album during "The Real Testament (Intro)." Over a slowly rumbling bass piano line he lets us know, “take this rap s**t from me, I’ll find another game…this was never my dream.” It’s the hip-hop version of playing hard to get. With so many rappers desperate to be loved, Plies declares he doesn’t need you and he doesn’t need rap. It’s his indifference that has fans mesmerized by his obscenity-laden rhymes.
Enough talk, let’s get into the music.
The track "Money Straight" has a booming beat with enough stuttering drum rolls and swagger to make Young Jeezy proud. A banger like that demands intimidatingly aggressive rhymes and Plies has no problem delivering a few verses with a crunk-esque intensity. The album’s full of tracks like "Money Straight"; "Goons Lurkin," "On My Dick," you know the story. It’s all huge beats and rhymes about gunplay and cash flow. Plies does his thing, but these hustlin' rap songs end up sounding formulaic by the end of the album.
Where Plies really distinguishes himself is on a track like "100 Years," a heartfelt attack on a prison system that gives long sentences to young black men who commit minor drug charges while white CEOs get a few months for embezzling billions. It telling that so few rappers rhyme about the justice system, maybe it’s because repeatedly yelling, “cracker!” is not a financially sound move in a genre where 80 percent of the audience is white. "Runnin My Momma Crazy" is another departure from the usual. The track is a heartfelt apology to his mother for the stress and unhappiness he’s put her through. Plies slows down his vocals to match the shining piano line melody, but it’s his honesty that grips. Most rappers are too scared to admit even the slightest sign of regret or vulnerability, not Plies, and that’s the realest part of The Real Testament.
The legion of girls screaming at Plies don’t want "100 Years," they want "Shawty," the smash single featuring T-Pain. Plies has classic bad-boy appeal but it’s T-Pain that makes the song work. Honestly, you could replace Plies with Yung Joc (or insert your choice here) and it’d still be a hit. Similarly, Plies was slated to appear on "I Wanna Love You" with Akon before he was replaced by Snoop because of a gun-related arrest. Akon repays him with "Hypnotized," a bouncing track that follows the "Shawty" formula exactly; explicit verses and a catchy hook.
For the record Plies may make the least romantic “for the ladies” songs ever; the radio versions have been drastically cleaned up. “I see me in her and pokin,” isn’t exactly a Hallmark card and Plies wouldn’t have it any other way. Plies doesn’t love lyricism, he loves realness. After all, it’s The Real Testament, not The Really Dope MC Testament. Which is more important to you? Choose accordingly.