Polo G is perseverance personified. The 21-year-old Chicago rapper’s debut album, Die A Legend, released in 2019 via Columbia Records, set stories of addiction, gun violence, and death to breathless production across 14 tracks. The artist born Taurus Bartlett walked through the fires of Old Town’s streets and found gold on the other side, preserving his life and solidifying his family’s legacy in the process.
“I’m so grateful he was able to turn his pain into passion because there are so many children like him,” his mother and manager Stacia Mac told me when I interviewed her this past February. Even Polo’s party records, like last year’s 4x Platinum RIAA-certified single “Pop Out,” move with an air of menace. “Them killers rock with me, lil’ nigga, don’t get banged / ’Cause they’ll do that job for me while I hop on a plane,” Polo raps on the song’s hook.
The tender velocity of Polo G’s music has taken him far and wide over the past year. On the precipice of releasing The GOAT, his sophomore major-label album, it’s time to see how much further he can go. In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no rewinds, pauses, or skips—a straight shot through followed by my gut reactions. Let’s ride.
1. “Don’t Believe The Hype (Intro)”
It wouldn’t be a Polo G song without a piano beat. “I was doing drugs just to get through the night.” Heart immediately on sleeve. “Always say their names so I don’t forget ‘em.” A title doesn’t mean shit without the people who help you get there. Polo’s melodies make the laser focus of his writing much more disarming. “Don’t Believe The Hype” sounds like it was spit from the inside of a tornado. Dragging us right into the maelstrom.
2. “Heartless” feat. Mustard
I’ve always wondered what Polo would sound like over a Mustard beat. A chopped and screwed Mustard beat tag, that’s new. The guitar twang is a nice touch. With the 808s and bass, this is by far the most expansive Mustard beat I’ve ever heard. Polo and Mustard’s respective influence is rubbing off. Stories of Instagram model cousins selling cocaine and spending money to forget the past. Even with its morbid streak, “Heartless” sounds ready for radio. Not distinctive but easy on the ears.
3. “Martin & Gina”
Any song called “Martin & Gina” has to be about relationships. Yep, he’s singing directly to his lady. “Every Martin & Gina, but we ain’t think about behind the scenes.” Bars about battling butterflies while she’s in her sundress are cute if a bit awkward. Polo’s sincerity is his secret weapon, but that can only take you so far. The bludgeoning low-end of the beat is also a new avenue for him. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be returning here.
4. “Flex” feat. Juice WRLD
I’m still in shock over Juice WRLD’s death. Seeing G Herbo and now Polo G honor his memory with these features makes the pain less potent. These last three songs are hitting different from a production standpoint. Guitars seem to have taken the place of pianos as Polo’s favorite instrument to rhyme over. “Flexin’ with 100 cash, look at what these songs do.” Even if his warriors will shoot like Golden State, Polo is relishing the spoils of his inner battles. He sounds rejuvenated. Here comes Juice WRLD, who isn’t on hook duty. Their styles are so similar, a natural pairing. I’m sad they won’t get to grow together. “Flex” is fun. I’ll be back.
5. “Go Stupid” feat. Stunna 4 Vegas & NLE Choppa
The piano’s back. Here comes the single to smack the doors down. Production from Mike WiLL Made-It and Tay Keith is putting my skull crusher headphones to work. Tinnitus incoming, but I don’t care. Polo is barreling through this beat, man. “They say my last tape a classic, but I got some hotter shit.” TALK THAT SHIT. “Go Stupid” deserves to reverberate off the walls of concert halls across the country. Fucking, COVID-19. Quarantine can’t end soon enough. Stunna 4 Vegas caught the baton Polo G threw. He eats on this kind of beat. NLE Choppa making Memphis proud with his verse. These three are in-sync, no JC. “Go Stupid” does, indeed, go incredibly stupid. A keeper.
Polo is bringing us back to the block. Talk of red tape, serving fiends, and pulling bands out of his safe. “Can’t relapse off these drugs, man; RIP to Juice / We was tweakin’ off those percs; I popped my last one with you.” His confessions are so nonchalant it can take a few seconds before their weight hits you in the chest. Going from apathy behind the wheel of a car to celebrating his 21st birthday is a tonal whiplash. “21” moves so fast, and Polo rides the beat so well it doesn’t matter. “Where I’m from, they turned death into a contest.” His trip from the North Side to the top of the hill is more exciting than the last few Fast & Furious movies. Is it just me, or do these beats have a lot more bass in them than they did on Die A Legend? The GOAT is propulsive, and it wants you to know it.
“This new glock got 33, Scottie Pippen.” I’m surprised I’ve never heard anyone make a Scottie Pippen gun reference before. A parallel to the shiny luxe of “21.” We’re back in the thick of it. “They like headshots, don’t make no sense to bring a vest out.” Polo sees dead friends and associates in every bust-down VVS he gets. He connects the dots so effortlessly. These songs move so fast it’s admittedly hard to keep up. Polo’s storytelling is so sharp. Third keeper in a row.
8. “I Know”
The GOAT is giving Polo to flex his musical range, and he hasn’t disappointed so far. Fast 808s and claps. The sunny guitar is clashing against Polo’s morbid thoughts. “Why can’t I just pull up to your crib and see you right there?” He’s explaining his trauma to a love interest. “I Know” is the kind of song you try to get lost in at a club, but the horrifying lyrics keep pulling you back into your feels. Strange position to be in, but I’m enjoying it all. The amount of people close to Polo who he’s lost is staggering. His honesty is humbling. Another keeper.
9. “Beautiful Pain (Losin’ My Mind)”
The album’s first proper ballad, complete with Auto-Tune. “Hope I feel your same pain when this karma come and get me.” Ah, so it’s not just a ballad; it’s a please forgive me for cheating ballad. It sounds gorgeous over the flamenco guitar and drums. He tried to fix his mistake, but now all he can see is his partner with someone else. Guilt is a killer. I like “Beautiful Pain,” but it’s doesn’t stand out.
10. “No Matter What”
Track 10 with six more songs to go. The album is moving so fast, I almost forgot how long it’s been. Man, the production across this album sounds so lush. The Columbia budget got put to good use. “When you fight for your life, ain’t no round two.” Polo is proving just how well he can hop between tones. He sounds confident, whether he’s happy or sad. Polo is calling upon his people’s energy to summon his spirit bomb on “No Matter What.” The beat swells and his lyrics are so raw it’s hard not to get swept up in it all—another standout.
11. “Be Something” feat. Lil Baby
Polo G and Lil Baby have so much in common. I’m hype to see how they’ll do on a song together. Polo doesn’t sound as invested in this verse. The raps are good, but the energy is different. Lil Baby just came in with double-dutcher energy. “Heart in Cali, but my mind in trenches.” He’s tap-dancing. “Be Something” is the one instance where the song’s energy doesn’t match the content of the verses. I won’t be back.
In 2020, if your album has more than 12 songs, there better be no filler. “Relentless” is moving at a steady clip so far. Polo is wondering why the white folx in his new neighborhood look at him differently. Racism coming from all sides. Polo sees music as therapy. He has a story for every situation. Going “from a gangsta to an activist” to facing dialysis for his drug use is a hell of a jump. I hope Polo’s mind is straight because sometimes it’s hard to tell. An emotionally rough listen, even by his standards, but still enjoyable.
Do Not Disturb is one of the greatest inventions of the modern age. I’m sure Polo agrees. “I cut everybody off, keep hitting decline.” He’s focused on success, music, and taking the edge off. A swirl of drugs and paranoia is keeping him fixated on his ultimate goal. “I’ve dressed up for too many funerals, I’m tired of coming.” Somebody find this boy some peace. His rapping is sharp, and he’s surfing the beat like no other. I imagine he finds peace in that. “DND” was a single, right? It sounds like it. [Editor’s Note: Yes.] Great song.
A handful of tracks left. As much as I’m enjoying The GOAT, we’ve already reached the “it’s a few songs too long” portion of the program. Interesting beat choice. The Chinese guitar sample is another left turn Polo G is using to his advantage. I was joking before, but I’m having a hard time keeping up with these stories now. If this is a marathon, I’m glad we’re in the final stretch. “Chinatown” isn’t grabbing my attention like that; the first song that feels like a genuine skip.
15. “Trials and Tribulations”
When Polo G has a story to tell, he has a full-blown story to tell. No secrets. “These mean streets turn a good kid into a colder savage.” A nice Kobe Bryant bar. Polo has many sins to answer for, but he’s standing 10 toes. Hearing him look back on his past while continuing to craft his future is powerful stuff. Not a favorite but not bad.
16. “Wishing For A Hero” feat. BJ The Chicago Kid
Homestretch. What could a Polo G and BJ The Chicago Kid track possibly sound like? Gospel choirs are a new look for Polo. These pianos are so bright. The white carpet is being rolled out. “They killed Martin for dreaming, now I can’t sleep.” He’s contemplating his ancestors. And here comes BJ on a cloud of voices. If Polo G’s verses weren’t here, this would feel like a BJ song retrofitted for him. Their worlds meld together well, though. Either way, “Wishing For A Hero” is an inspiring note to end on, philosophically and musically. “You made it, big brother. You’re the GOAT.” Smiles all around.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Polo G’s The GOAT
Like the title implies, Polo G’s sophomore album The GOAT is ambitious. The Chicago native continues to memorialize fallen comrades while looking toward the future with an expanded musical palette. The beats add guitar and throbbing bass to his repertoire, and several are among the sunniest he’s ever rapped over (“Heartless,” “Flex,” “21”).
Unlike on Die A Legend, Polo G is open to celebrating his bright future, but we’re never too far from the edge of desolation. “Can’t relapse off these drugs, man; RIP to Juice / We was tweakin’ off those percs; I popped my last one with you,” he says on “21.” His most affecting writing sounds like it was pulled from private therapy sessions.
Any album with 15-plus songs is bound to have a few misses. Lil Baby outshines Polo’s reflection on their collab “Do Something,” drowning him out with more energy and slick wordplay. Polo’s attempts at love songs (“Martin & Gina,” “Beautiful Pain”) lack the distinctive writing he flexes elsewhere. “Be Something” and “Chinatown” add unnecessary padding. Sequencing is also an issue across The GOAT, with song transitions resulting in a tonal whiplash missing from the leaner and laser-focused Die A Legend.
Yet, none of these shortcomings define The GOAT as an album worthy of the dreaded “sophomore slump” label. Polo G, a year older and more mature, remains one of his generation’s most gripping and thoughtful writers. For all the demons he’s faced on the streets and in his mind, he’s one step closer to securing his legacy.