As Sigmund Freud once said, sometimes the title of a rap album is just the title of a rap album. (Ok, not an exact quote, but it’s close.) But sometimes an album’s title can say everything you need to know about an artist, like when you’re Diggy Simmons and you name your debut album Unexpected Arrival. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone whose arrival in the rap game could be less unexpected (aka more expected) than Diggy Simmons. The son of hip-hop legend Rev Run and the nephew of Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, Diggy has had every conceivable advantage during his 18 years on Earth. While others worked menial jobs, or worse, simply to set up bedroom closet recording booths, Diggy could simply walk downstairs and into a state-of-the-art studio. While others worked every conceivable angle for years just to get a major label intern to listen to their mixtape, through Rev and Russell the world’s most famous producers were literally just a call away.
With all that pampering the world expected Diggy Simmons to be, simply put, wack when he first started releasing music, but the young man unexpectedly turned out to be, well, definitely not wack. If he was from a small town in Nebraska instead if birthed into rap royalty would I be writing about him now? Nope. But Diggy couldn’t help the circumstances of his birth more than any of us can, and so he’s simply set out to do the best he can with the hand that was dealt him—and if Unexpected Arrival is any indication, his best isn’t bad at all.
This question was effectively answered for everyone but the most jaded years ago, but just in case there are still doubters wondering “Can Simmons actually rap?”, yes, yes he can. Diggy’s still very much a teen, and his light voice proves it, but he can find a pocket to flow in nicely and his lyrics (regardless of who writes them) are more complex than the vast majority of teen rhymes we’re bombarded with. On slow banger "I Need to Know" Diggy pulls the 50 Cent "21 Questions" routine, wondering if those pushing to get close to him now would still be around if he were broke, and while the Illmatic and Reasonable Doubt references on "Two Up" will undoubtedly make hip-hop OGs cringe, the song is still catchy but not corny, light but still anchored. If anything Diggy’s worse moments come when he tries too hard to prove to the world that he should be taken seriously as an emcee, most notably on the race and class focused "Unforgivable Blackness." It’s an incredibly complex subject that older, and better, emcees have tried and failed to address, but although "Unforgivable Blackness" falls firmly in the “A for effort” category, at least he’s trying. It would have been far easier to ditch the record for a track with Chris Brown, but Diggy obviously wants the world to see he’s not taking the easiest way out.
That’s not to say the young man doesn’t also have visions of radio success. It has to be said that for all the talk about Diggy’s can’t miss future, he has yet to produce even one song that’s truly caught on; consider Do It Like You his best chance yet. With Jeremih providing a sugary sweet chorus, Diggy runs through a litany of enlightened man lyrics, letting that special lady in his life that he loves her mind not just her body, thinks she looks beautiful with no makeup, etc. etc. "Like You" feels a lot like the formulaic pop-hop pervading the radio waves…so it should have a pretty solid shot at pervading the airwaves. If we’re going the “for the ladies” route I distinctly prefer the more mellow "Special Occasion," a more traditionally R&B-rap joint featuring Tank and at least one solid Saved by the Bell reference, while for all its Drake-ish-ness, the half-sung, half-rapped "4 Letter Word" should find a spot in the hearts and headphones of teenage girls everywhere.
Unexpected Arrival is far better than most of the haters, and frankly, the realists, expected, but is exceeding low expectations enough to build a career on? Run DMC is in the hip-hop hall of fame because they didn’t sound like anything we’d ever heard before; for all his polished skill, what is Diggy Simmons doing that we haven’t heard before? Without his famous name and reality tv pedigree, is the music enough to truly break through an already over-saturated game? Frankly, I don’t think so, but if Diggy proves me wrong it wouldn’t be the first time he achieved the unexpected.