For months I wondered whether it was possible to just like 03 Greedo. No one I had read or talked to liked 03 Greedo. Either they hadn't yet heard of him or he was their new favorite rapper (or, as of yesterday, their least favorite, following some less-than-favorable remarks regarding Tupac).
Representative of a rap media landscape that often tosses basic tenets like forming individual opinions to the wind in favor of latching on to whatever everyone else is propping up at the moment, I’d wondered whether my understanding that he was very good but probably not the best rapper alive was a fair opinion, or if it just meant that I didn’t get “it.” The hype machine is always on, and it can blur the lines between what’s actually great and what’s regarded as such simply because other people said so.
It didn’t help Greedo’s case when major publications further muddied the waters by propping him up as a barometer of rap insider knowledge, or how every time I saw his name it was because he should be my new favorite rapper or how he's the most versatile rapper out or how he's the future of West Coast rap or how he's a living legend.
Or maybe it did help his case. What the fuck do I know? Maybe 03 Greedo is all those things. Maybe he lived up to the hyperbolic praise that seems to accompany every conversation he's involved in. Unfortunately, a constant flood of new music, not nearly enough time, and Greedo's discography consisting of 30 to 40-song mixtapes meant I could see flashes of greatness while not being able to fully digest his range of material.
Well, until this past Friday.
The Wolf of Grape Street is 03 Greedo's first project since signing with Alamo Records, mixing up new songs with a few older standouts. At 21 tracks, it's still a lengthy affair, but Greedo is versatile and volatile enough to keep your attention until the closing seconds. A self-described brand of "emo music for gangbangers," there's no telling when he'll be rapping, singing, or some manic combination of the two. Flows switch up constantly, guests seem eager to simply match his energy, and at any moment Greedo might just let loose into a series of wails, yelps, and groans.
The album sounds like Greedo showing off his talents in all the various arenas of popular hip-hop at the moment, but rather than coming off as a calculated attempt to showcase his range, you're left with the sense that Greedo just adapts to whatever beat is thrown his way (or that he produced) and how he feels in the moment.
Earnest and moving tribute to fallen friends "For My Dawgs" is immediately followed by effervescent melody "Pop It," which finds him blissfully riding a cloud. "Paranoid Pt. 03" and "White Owl" rely on crazed repetition to properly relay the madness. "Vulture" finds Greedo warning you not to snore while he kicks in your front door; "Substance" finds him nodding off himself.
The biggest takeaway outside of 03 Greedo's range and unpredictability is how great he is at rapping. Tracks like "Ballin'," "Back to Bacc," "100 Bands," and "Chase" showcase an adept lyricist who is able to rattle off rapid-fire flows packed with colorful language, skillfully accentuating his rhymes and bending words to his will.
"Look At Me Now" is an early standout. Over one of the tape's more haunting (if not standard) trap backdrops, Greedo simply sounds like a man possessed. He moves steadily from bar to bar with a forceful urgency, swelling with an energy that threatens to spill out at any second. Raps devolve into frenzied singing and after revealing that "a year ago I lost my n*gga" his yells begin to crack with desperation.
As the song fades out, a simple but harrowing line is repeated: "Same age as my daddy died."
The available interviews and accounts of Greedo's life prove essential to understanding the artist's music and perspective. His life has been marred by tragedy, drugs, and legal troubles. Greedo's father was killed in a motorcycle accident when the artist was only one. Poverty, homelessness, and addiction have been constant struggles. As a Grape Street Crip, he's seen close friends murdered, incarceration, and a bullet would that nearly led to the amputation of his leg (which is now mostly metal). Even with a newly-minted deal with Alamo that is worth a reported $1.7 million, Greedo is facing two separate felony charges that could land him behind bars for decades. The day he should have been celebrating his first major release, he was in court.
This is but a surface-level summary of the stark reality that is Greedo's life, but it provides not only context for his unique style but valid perspective behind his panned opinions of Pac's street credibility. That later in his now-infamous Billboard interview he went on to praise Blink-182, Paramore, and Lana Del Rey only adds to the compelling aura surrounding his rapid come-up.
His whine isn't for everyone, and the unpolished nature of much of his music doesn't scream for mainstream hits, but unfinished beats, off-key crooning and vocal cracks are, according to Greedo, necessary for authentic street music. His output slots him alongside the most prolific names in rap; he's already teased a deluxe version of his brand new, 21-track project alongside what looks to be 13 additional projects on the way.
Still, Greedo is refreshing in today's predictable digital rap landscape, if not because of the music itself then because he's a flawed, authentic human being that doesn't give a fuck what you or anyone thinks.
He strikes you as the type of person who wears his emotions on his sleeve. Sometimes that leads to a candid interview where he calls Tupac a bitch. Most times it leads to fascinating music that’s playful ("If I Wasn't Rappin'," "Pop It"), unhinged ("Look At Me Now," "White Owl"), horny ("Beat That Thang Down"), triumphant ("Baytoven," "Vulture") and everything in between.
03 Greedo could very well be the future of rap, or he could not be. Regardless, The Wolf of Grape Street is as compelling a rap album as 2018 has provided so far.