“Rapman” Your Old Droog proves yet again that he is a student turned master of New York hip-hop with his latest gritty and innovative album Packs.
An album that stays true to — while also freshening up — boombap beats, Packs makes a strong case for East coast revivalism. We all know by now that Droog is not Nas, but he wears his influences on his sleeve throughout the album without appearing derivative. Packs shows Your Old Droog maturing and sharpening up his punchlines. Droog updates the dusty East coast sound with remarkable storytelling, some chaotic beats, and a host of impressive features. No hip-hop lover should be sleeping on this project.
The first bar of this album gives the tone of project away: threatening keys followed by anxious horns winding into the back of the mix. The influence is clear, but the innovation is more so. Your Old Droog is firm in his music identity, and that certainly translates over into his lyrics and ability to write characters across his verses. “G.K.A.C” is a not-so-subtle political moment on the album, standing for “gotta kill a cop.” Don’t get it twisted, Droog isn’t looking for a call to arms; he’s a storyteller and this is one of the City’s stories.
Storytelling is the real moniker of this project with tracks like “You Can Do It! (Give Up)” and “My Girl Is A Boy.” One features Droog telling the tragic come-up story with some sardonic humor, and the other a tale about being set up by the person you’re meant to trust the most. Whether or not Droog is the main character in these songs, he delivers the stories with such a strong conviction, you can’t help but feel him living within his own bars.
Though the instrumentation borrows heavily from the quintessential New York sound, Droog lets his sound evolve throughout this project with standouts like “Bangladesh” and “Grandma Hips.” The beat on “Grandma Hips” has a classic structure, disrupted by horn flourishes that add the chaos you’d expect from a song featuring Danny Brown. Just as the features keep the album engaging, Droog’s “Jeselnik Skits” move the album along and break up the muggy nature of the sound he’s playing with. They add a nice levity and accentuate the humor of some of Droog’s punchline raps.
“White Rappers” is an unexpectedly bright moment on the album, where Droog discusses the notion of white rappers and quality of music. A pedantic take on white artists, Droog could be considered “a good guest” himself, as he explains that skill on the mic should be the only qualifier to rap: “what matters is the beats and if the emcee goes in.” Droog’s dry singing on the hook is warm though his voice is coarse. He doesn’t attempt to smooth out the grit in his voice, and the result is a rich and attractive timbre.
Packs is nothing if not Your Old Droog updating his artistic statement and finding a foothold for himself within the new and old schools of New York. The project comes in at 40 minutes and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. Droog is making the music he wants without becoming too heady or sentimental. His music has become a drop more adventurous, but he is still comfortably resting in his niche. Listening to Packs sounds exactly as the name suggests: hanging out with your old friend. At its core, Packs is a testament to Droog and his love of the genre.