Moneybagg Yo is rap’s reigning blue-collar mate
The love-as-drug song has been a pop music cliché since at least 1938, when Billie Holiday recorded “You Go To My Head.” It’s logic. The buzzing, floating, fleeting feeling of being newly in love is one of the big topics of pop, and it’s hard to find too many other feelings that can even compare to that feeling. Time and time again, pop musicians have described this feeling as a high: Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug”, Huey Lewis’ “I Need A New Drug”, Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love”, “Can’ Can’ by The Weeknd. Don’t feel my face. It’s a little rarer to hear someone sing a love song for a drug, but a song like that is emerging as one of the ubiquitous rap bangers of 2021.
“Wockesha,” by Memphis rap mate Moneybagg Yo, isn’t exactly a smart song. The central conceit – Moneybagg Yo sounds like it’s about a girl, but it’s really about skinny – wears off by the time you’re done hearing the song for the first time. What sets “Wockesha” apart isn’t the extended metaphor; it is apparent sincerity. Moneybagg really comes across as someone who is in the grip of a feeling he only gets from a dangerous substance: “Ring around the rosie/ Cup full of OZ’s/ I hope I don’t do d ‘OD/ She keeps saying ‘For me.’ Near the end of the song, Moneybagg softly mutters that “that shit is toxic. But the song’s central sample—the lush, mellow keyboard riff from DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” the same sample that led to Biggie’s “One More Chance” – is a sound that conditions us to think about real romantic love, so when Moneybagg’s voice breaks softly as he describes what that mug does to him, it sounds like it’s is real.
No one expected “Wockesha” to become a hit. The song still has no video, even though it crushed Moneybagg’s recent single, the more traditional flex “Time Today,” on the charts. People keep streaming “Wockesha” and “Wockesha” keeps lingering. “Wockesha”, I learned, sounds really good in a car. Maybe that’s Moneybagg Yo’s secret. Moneybagg Yo just might be the kind of rapper whose music sounds great in a car.
Moneybagg Yo doesn’t demand your attention. He never did. Moneybagg occasionally does the Auto-Tune song, but not enough to make it a hallmark of his style. He’s technically sound and perfectly capable of talking shit, but he’s not exactly flashy. He sometimes raps about addiction, depression or struggle – his new album is literally called The pain of a gangsta – but he never looks extremely sad. He never looks extremely happy either. Instead, it rings gift. He’s just always there – a utility player who can hop on a track and handle his 16 bars without drama. When Swizz Beatz composed DMX’s posthumous album Exodus, he somehow lost the Pop Smoke verse that was supposed to appear on the song “Money Money Money”. So Swizz just came out and got a Moneybagg Yo verse to replace Pop Smoke’s. Moneybagg Yo played the substitutes very well. He can still do that.
Moneybagg Yo is someone who operates in a tradition. He’s a solid, reliable badass of Memphis rap. Over the years there have been many. The boss of Moneybagg’s own label, Yo Gotti, is probably the king of them. Right now, Memphis is full of gruff, intimidating, rock-solid rappers who work a generally similar style: Young Dolph, Pooh Shiesty, Key Glock, Big30. I love all these rappers, but I don’t really consider them characters. Usually you have to be a character to become a rap star. But Moneybagg Yo thrived. It’s been working for the better part of a decade, has made a handful of reliable bangers, and has remained without any excessive levels of drama. He created music at a fast pace, and if that music was never spectacular, it never was. wrong, That is. And accordingly, it gradually rose. Moneybagg Yo is a big deal these days, and there’s something slightly surprising about it.
The pain of a gangsta was released in late April and debuted at No. 1. A week later it dropped to No. 2, behind that cursed DJ Khaled album. Then, a week later, when the release schedule was slow, Moneybagg climbed back up to number one. After two months, the album still sits comfortably in the top 10. “Wockesha” and “Time Today” are both trailing in the middle echelons of the Hot 100, and their momentum doesn’t seem to wane. Moneybagg doesn’t suddenly do BTS numbers or anything, but each new album has improved the performance of the one before it, and now he’s a name. As a name, it’s bound to end up in some goofy situations.
During the Floyd Mayweather/Logan Paul boxing match a few weeks ago, Moneybagg Yo accompanied Mayweather to the ring while rapping “Time Today.” This is where we are as a society: a big famous boxing asshole, on his way to beat up a YouTube guy, flanked by a serious rapper who says “she ate the dick through my underwear” . Is anyone comfortable with this? This shit is weird.
The pain of a gangsta is a slog of an album. It’s Moneybagg Yo doing all the obvious rap star stuff, doing songs with Pharrell and Future and whoever else, saying all the expected things in all the expected ways. I was not surprised once while listening to it. But when “Wockesha” and “Time Today” come on, I don’t turn them off. They knocked. Maybe that’s how things work. Maybe if you make enough successful songs, if you go long enough without imploding or falling victim to any of the perils of rap careers, then you win. Maybe Moneybagg Yo won. I hope so. I always liked him. But now that he’s won, I hope he makes some interesting music.
1. OMB Bloodbath – “Don’t Do It”
I am a simple man. If you take an exciting, charismatic female rapper and surround her with triumphant synths, machine gun snares and tacky sung hooks, then I’ll be happy. “Don’t” makes me happy.
2. Gucci Mane – “Posse On Bouldercrest” (Feat. Sir Mix-A-Lot & Pooh Shiesty)
Gucci Mane is 41, which means he’s old enough to remember that Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1988 single “Band on Broadwayis an eternal banger that will always sound good. Gucci also remained famous enough to be able to take this song and make it sound like a hit in 2021. As a fellow 41-year-old rapper, I salute him.
3. Chief Keef – “Hadouken”
Sosa always seemed more of a M. Bison type to me than a Ryu guy, but I’m glad I’m wrong. In related news, this song is beautifully ugly. More rappers should try adding a few bars of just heavy breathing in the middle of a track.
4. Pink Siifu – “Long Hair Care”
Pink Siifu is one of my favorite parts of the recent wave of DIY lo-fi rap music, mainly because he’s so good at sounding like he’s underwater.
5. The Cool Kids – “Hibachi” (Feat. Key! & Nikki Sweets)
After widows, I find it hard to listen to The Cool Kids without imagining Daniel Kaluuya glaring menacingly at Sir Michael Rocks and then shooting him in the head. It’s a very real obstacle, and yet this piece is undeniably a daredevil.