This here rap thing is kind of like the NFL Draft. In the NFL, through rigorous testing, arbitrary mock drafts and of course game tape, hundreds of "experts" try their hand at predicting the futures of young men with dreams of making it to the pros, long before they take the field under the bright lights.
In rap, there is no actual draft, no combine, but the idea is the same. My favorite part of this job is finding young, talented rappers and watching them develop into full-fledged emcees. Sometimes, you find young guys who are talented, but the full package isn't quite there yet. When it comes to these prospects, you have to listen for potential more than the music itself. While these emcees may not be at the levels of Kendrick and Cole, yet, you buy into the fact that they could be one day. In draft parlance, they've got tremendous "upside." Well, one emcee who has been at the top of my big board for a minute now is New York's own HD.
Since stumbling across "Still Me" I've been a fan. For a while, he was a prospect, a dope one who I featured as part of the "Meet" series, but a prospect nonetheless. He was talented, it was clear from the palpable spark on "Still Me," but it wasn't all there. Nearly two years later, with the release of his new tape, The Greay(t) Area, HD has moved from talented prospect to professional emcee.
I'll admit it, when I saw he dropped a tape, I was excited. I figured I'd get a few cuts to add into my rotation and that would be that. Since I still considered him a prospect, I was not expecting this project to be a cohesive, creative, incredibly well-constructed album;. Then I listened and was blown away. The heart and the youthful exuberance that got me hooked was still there, but it felt more focused and more refined. I'm always willing to let the little things - beat selection, a truly undeniable flow and deep wordplay - go for the younger prospects, but with this tape, I didn't have to let a single thing slide. At 26-years-old I'm in a weird space. I still feel like I'm 21, but when I hear a 19-year-old rap about college and girls, I feel a little distance between us. I can listen and enjoy it, but the problems and issues don't really align. It's why I don't date girls who in their early 20s. I'm not philosophically against it, but experience has taught me we'd just be on different wave lengths. HD sounds well beyond his years. I did an interview with him, but on this body of work I feel like I really met him.
Sure, his flow is as strong as any veteran's and his beat selection is top notch, but what really made me a believer was the content. With "On The Daily" he talks about his journey to classes via public transportation. While it's been a while since I've had a college class, I can certainly identify with the exhaustion of running hrough the daily grind and the rat race. He manages to capture that jaded frustration without being boring or whiny. If grind anthems don't get you though your day but vibrant cuts do, check out "Daydreamin,'" which has a distinct throwback feel; like some '90s Bad Boy shit. Speaking of throwback, all of you stanch hip-hop heads will appreciate cuts like "Fake The Funk," which has that foggy bounce; the only thing more hip-hop than that beat is his wordplay. For those who don't like to put a timestamp on their rap, "First Drive" and "Moshin' In The Woods" are for you. Shit, he even gets into some really great storytelling with "Copper."
What blew me away on "Copper" was the second half of the song, where HD takes on the persona of a cop involved in a deadly traffic stop. Hip-hop's had its fair share of commentary on police brutality, but I have yet to hear an emcee, even J. Cole, do it like this. By telling the story of both sides of the altercation, the cop and the victim, HD presents a different way of looking at things, a way I never even really considered until this song. It's that kind of content, that extra-emphasis on being different and exceptional, that shows me HD is a true, bonafide artist. He can do thoughtful, meaningful songs just as easily as he can make me chuckle with a reference to a weird Spongebob episode. All of these songs, the various sounds, styles and topics are all fused together with a few interesting, existential skits which, as philosophy minor and a hip-hop head, is always appreciated. He does so much but is able to make it genuine and cohesive because he really puts himself at the center of the work. That challenge is difficult for any artist, regardless of deals, followers, or experience, and to see HD grasp it is remarkable.
I don't know what the future holds. Maybe he will sign a major label deal in three months, maybe three years, maybe he'll stay indie for decades. To me that isn't what makes someone "ready." What makes someone an emcee in my eyes is the ability to create a cohesive, thoughtful, project that is both easy to listen to and challenging. Someone who goes that extra mile to make sure that bar is great. Someone who can boast, but also makes sure to show their human side. When I go down the checklist of what makes an emcee, HD has each and every one covered on this project.
If this was the combine, he just ran a 4.2.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]