Three years ago, Your Old Droog broke onto the scene in a fashion usually reserved for R&B stars who sing about girls who do coke. With no photos, social media presence or even prior releases, as far as anyone could tell, Droog arrived out of the blue in a cloud of mystique.
His elusiveness, coupled with the fact he had a similar cadence to the Queensbridge legend, gave birth to an absurd conspiracy theory claiming that Your Old Droog was actually Nas (assuming a 40-year-old rap icon-turned-businessman had the time or inclination to make a secret side project that sounded like his debut album that came out two decades earlier).
The tinfoil hat theory was soon lit on fire like a basehead smoking crack when the then-25-year-old Ukrainian rapper from Brooklyn unveiled his distinctly non-Nas identity at his sold-out debut show at Webster Hall. Whether it was clever marketing or good fortune, Droog was making noise that an emcee with his sensibilities otherwise wouldn’t.
Since then, Your Old Droog has established his own voice as an underground favorite. He’s amassed an impressive catalog that includes his self-titled debut, the rock-referencing Kinison EP and the short-but-sweet The Nicest EP while collaborating with the likes of Statik Selektah, Mac Miller and Joey Bada$$.
Packs is Droog’s official sophomore album, and judging by the tracklist, it already stacks up as his biggest project yet.
The 14-track LP features appearances from Danny Brown, Wiki, Heems, Chris Crack and Boston hip-hop hero Edan (plus a voicemail from the late Sean Price, but that’s for you to find on your own). On the production tip, Droog and his right-hand man RTNC handle most of the work, while outsourcing a few joints to The Alchemist, 88-Keys and The Purist.
His debut album proved that Your Old Droog is not Nas. But how good is Your Old Droog on his sophomore album?
Three Standout Songs:
The opening song on the album, “G.K.A.C.” (short for “Gotta Kill a Cop”) opens Packs like the Feds busting down your front door during a drug raid. Over wailing sirens and shredding drums, Droog tells the story of a psychopath on a mission to put “pigs in a blanket” in the pursuit of true justice. As the sample of Opa’s “Brooklynville” (famously flipped by Madlib on Freddie Gibbs’ “Scarface”) turns frantic, the story reaches its thrilling climax when the vigilante, after embarking on a killing spree, realizes he has no way out and turns the gun on himself. “G.K.A.C.” feels more like a gripping police chase than an overt anti-police anthem, but even when playing narrator, Droog possesses the vigor of Chuck D and the observational eye of Nas (sorry).
“Help” (ft. Wiki & Edan)
Originally appearing on Droog and Wiki’s collaborative EP What Happened to Fire? which dropped last month, "Help" is the loudest, lewdest ("I whip my dick out, piss straight in the street") moment on Packs. Channeling the ’90s rock and punk bands that Droog referenced (but didn’t necessarily imitate) on 2015’s Kinison EP, “Help” is a relentless onslaught of drums and guitar that’ll leave you begging for just that. Lil Yachty and Carly Rae Jepsen remade Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two” into a corny Target commercial, but thankfully Droog, Wiki and Edan were able to do the classic justice here. “Don’t worry Rob Base, we bring you back to life tomorrow,” Droog tweeted last month before dropping the song.
“My Girl Is a Boy”
If “G.K.A.C.” and “Help” crippled your speakers, then “My Girl Is a Boy” will soothe them back to health. On the album’s smoothest joint, Droog slides back into the director’s seat and tells the story of falling in love with a hood chick who has "pretty toes with the ankle bracelet." Like a ’17 Bonnie and Clyde, Droog and his girl make it official by running a little drug ring, but it’s only a matter of time before the feds come knocking. It’s at this point Droog discovers his girl is not only a narc but a “he.” The way his “what?!” ad-lib comes in is flawless comedic timing.
In case it wasn’t already obvious, Your Old Droog can fucking rap. To quote Sway, “he talks like an ill rapper.” Packs is packed with slick wordplay and crafty double entendres that’ll make you scrunch your face up (“The world treated him like three-fifths, so he copped four-fifths”). His storytelling ability shines on “You Can Do It! (Give Up),” which is like Pharrell’s “You Can Do It Too” turned on its head with a dose of reality. Like his favorite rapper from Yonkers, Droog drops quietly profound gems for the young Gs: “Why play a game that you not gon’ win?”
Sure, Droog still kinda sounds like a hybrid of Nas and The Game, but it’s his humor that sets him apart and gives him his own personality. Packs is peppered with hilarious rhymes—far too many to quote, but “remember: pistol whipping is the sincerest form of battery” deserves to be committed to paper. The album also plays like a college rap radio show with comedian Anthony Jeselnik popping up every few songs with announcements like, “we’ve got that much-anticipated interview with Dem Franchize Boys coming up in a minute, but first check out this brand new fire from Your Old Droog!” Despite his stand-offish demeanor, Droog isn’t scared to laugh at himself either: “Saw my looks dilapidate at a rapid rate," he concedes on "Bangladesh."
While all the guests—particularly Heems and Danny Brown, who practically personify the beats they rap over—help to elevate the album, it’s usually Droog who lets himself down. “Rapman,” a song about a vigilante emcee who makes mumble rappers enunciate their words and old washed-up rappers throw the towel in, feels like a half-baked attempt at a tired idea. “White Rappers,” meanwhile, is like Droog’s version of Asher Roth’s “As I Em,” except has the white rapper critique really been levied at him like that? (“At the moment, whites don’t claim me,” he admits earlier in the album). Maybe it’s his battle rap DNA, but Droog has a habit of getting caught up in other rappers’ music rather than his own.
It’s a shame that Your Old Droog didn’t choose to build on “42 (FORTY DEUCE),” a truly catchy song that earned him larger success without compromising his lyrical ability or New York essence, but what Packs does offer doesn’t disappoint. It’s crisp, it’s colorful and it contains some of the best rapping of the year so far. Packs is further proof that Your Old Droog is one of the nicest emcees not just in New York, but in hip-hop as a whole.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.