What does New York sound like? According to Fat Joe, it sounds like whatever is popping on the radio. According to younger, in the know rap fans, though, it sounds like Jay Critch, a young Brooklyn rapper with enough swagger for every borough.
Critch first broke in 2017 the way most artists break in 2017: viral singles and infectious flows. The difference between a one-off and Jay Critch? He kept landing hit after hit, each with an indescribable New York energy at its root. With a bevy of tracks to point to, it was the Harry Fraud-produced anthem “Thousand Ways” that cemented Critch as New York’s next rising star.
All of this would suggest Jay Critch has since stowed away to pen the next great New York debut rap album. Well, after amassing millions of streams on his singles, Jay Critch is releasing his first full body of work, Hood Favorite. Just one note: it’s a "mixtape." Sounding polished, cohesive, and expensive, we have to imagine Hood Favorite hasn’t been elevated to album status out of general trepidation. Perhaps Critch and Interscope would rather test the waters before taking the debut-album-plunge. Semantics aside, Hood Favorite remains Critch’s formal introduction to commercial hip-hop, and for the most part, he introduces himself well.
Jay Critch opens his project on a juiced up high. Let us take a brief moment to commend him for not simply repackaging his singles and calling it a day. Jay Critch has chosen to forge on anew, as he should.
All of Crtich’s on-camera presence and spunk makes its way to the introductory “Smutty,” where the young man sounds like the future of the city over some God-given woodwinds. Punchlines cascade down the springing production; Jay Critch knows his strengths and knows how to deliver them. His catching flow, built on the patter and droll of his cadence, instantly holds our ear. Not even a full minute into the tape and we have to wonder: Why isn’t this an album? Critch is well pronounced and rapping with full flavor, leading with his slang and pulling us in with the exclusivity of the moment he’s cultivating. The initial tone of Hood Favorite is one of trendsetting, not coattail riding.
Yet, the mixtape format quickly makes itself apparent as we deal with Critch’s artistic growing pains. The Auto-Tune singing on “Way It Is” goes over rough and out of character. The track is a sore misstep as it obscures Critch’s distinct vocal tone, which is the cornerstone of his charisma and appeal. “Brown Hair” falls into the same trap. The track sounds less like what makes Jay Critch an exciting top prospect, and more like the manifestation of Fat Joe’s fears for the city as a trend-chasing monolith. Finally, though, on “Peso,” Critch gets his Auto-Tune use right, pitching down his voice and bringing the same spirited flow we fell in love with. Even the come-up bars about ramen noodles and slightly melodic lilt go off here where it fell flat on previous attempts.
Dressed in window tints, foreigns, cash talk, popped bottles, and drift marks, Hood Favorite is a predominately celebratory and swanky, as only Jay Critch could accomplish, affair. Yet, it is not without texture and trial. “Quicker” is a moment wherein Critch abandons his braggadocious tone for something a bit more somber and touching, promising to never change and scowling at the fake. His affect presents a newfound refinement and depth. Though, a majority of the content fails to fully reflect the vocal and mood shifts. Instead, we are left with a plush track that flirts with the downtrodden, executed by a young man who does not yet know how to fully unpack his emotions. Perhaps his emotions will make the debut album.
Feelings aside, the biggest sell for Jay Critch is his effortlessness. The ease and steeze of his breakout singles translate into every corner of Hood Favorite. Critch’s delivery transcends base conversations about technical proficiency that reward speed. We applaud him for his mic skill, yes, but also for his uncanny ability to keep a consistent artistic voice within his liquid gold flow.
In particular, “Ego,” “Resort” with its tropical tinge, and “Replace” all have the makings of cultural moments in the vein of Migos’ smash “T-Shirt.” Critch’s inflections and smirking personality make him irresistible when he’s in his bag. Jay has little difficulty making himself the center of attention on Hood Favorite, playing second to neither his features nor his superb production. His bars impress when they land, which they often do, and are subsequently sticky. Where so many upcoming artists struggle to make an impact, the highs of Hood Favorite leave a clear and jeering afterimage.
A line like “I was in the chicken spot, now it’s Nobu” sums up everything right with Jay Critch. He is as localized and magnetic as Wiki, but where Wiki dips into the cadences of London and uses his heritage to make New York brand new, Jay Critch taps into the moment teeming beneath our current cultural moment. Hood Favorite is anchored only slightly by popular trap tropes. On the whole, the project is affixed to New York’s dusky, capricious, hustler energy. It is a dominant, defined, and confident project. Consistent percussion rolls and quick-tongued verses with ample cheek make Hood Favorite a staple shoulder-shimmy-inducing record.
Hood Favorite is not simply a collection of highs, either. Jay Critch's flirting with Hot 100 trends, New York, and Atlanta all coalesces finally on “Hustle Music.” He hits the auto-crooned highs he missed on “Way It Is,” employs the throaty lows of “Peso,” and brings in the street-velvet timbre of “Quicker” once the raps pick up. With that, Hood Favorite sounds complete, and if anything, proves Jay Critch can take direction. As a full-length debut mixtape, it is more a learning experience for Critch and for fans, than it is a story of his journey thus far. Labeling the project a tape and not an LP gives him some flex room to run point on his artistic direction in 2019 when all the more people will be watching. Consequently, the record lands somewhere between a coming-of-age narrative and the splendor of Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy.
Jay Critch summons from me the same excitement that welled up when A$AP Rocky hit the scene. Both artists lead with their allure and present themselves as the magnetic next chapter in New York’s rap legacy. Firstly, Rocky brought Houston to New York, and New York to Houston, and himself to the world. At present, Jay Critch has the very same potential, subbing out Houston for the new New York. In fact, Jay Critch may even have an easier time absorbing fans into his orbit than Lord Pretty Flacko, if only his universe were less myopic. That’s not to say Critch is navel-gazing, but a rapper building his career on personality and punchlines needs to have a stacked quiver and by “Hustle Music,” we can feel Critch grasping for arrows. Does he still hit his mark with Hood Favorite? Certainly so. Should he be aiming higher for the proper debut album? Absolutely.
Three Standout Tracks
A thumping project-opener that lets us know Jay Critch is a new school rapper with New York sensibilities. The mean-mugging beat, sculpted flow, and the word “smutty” itself establish Critch as a trendsetter. He’s the one making the block hot.
Built on a bevy of quotables, memorable inflections, and brick bag talk, “Ego” is the perfect lead single. Proof Critch can make an earworm from verse to hook, “Ego” first planted the seed that Jay Critch was our hood favorite, and in the context of the tape, that flower blooms. The call to his slang on “Smutty” is a nice touch, too.
“Quicker” ft. Offset
Call this the Hood Favorite deep cut. Bringing some texture and a stormy quality to his voice, Critch uses “Quicker” as an opportunity to flex his potential range while still keeping things light. Offset’s triplets are a welcome addition, too.
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