When I first listened to Mudboy, I didn’t make it all the way through. I stopped about halfway, unimpressed. But the allure of Sheck Wes’ previous singles (“Mo Bamba,” “Live SheckWes Die SheckWes” and “Chippi Chippi”) made me revisit it.
Make no mistake: the high points of the 20-year-old rapper’s debut can be almost entirely attributed to the producers. Mudboy is a producer’s project. Each deafening kick, 808, snare, synth and obscurity like the techno kit at the end of “Gmail” or the synthesizer riff on “Fuck Everybody” carries the Harlem rapper through and holds him tight for as long as it can. Ultimately, Sheck seems unable to let go, and it’s obvious.
But if the trancelike, chant-like “Mo Bamba” is what drew me to Mudboy, “Gmail” is what made me stay. The production, as with all the songs, is infectious. It sounds like a video game from the late ‘90s, and the last minute or so is the audio equivalent of steadily coasting down the street and suddenly slamming the gas pedal. I had to play it twice, because the first time I was only listening to the beat produced by YungLunchBox, who has production credits on a few other songs on the album.
Given his emphasis on beats and repetitious style, I guess you could group Sheck Wes in the mumble rap category. The thing I love about mumble rappers is they truly don’t care. You can tell them a million times they can’t rap and they’ll still drop three projects in a year should they feel compelled to. (Cue Playboi Carti: “Bought that crib for my mama off that mumblin' shit/ Made a mil' off that, uh, off that mumblin' shit.”)
With that being said, the couple of bars that truly impressed me can be found on “Burn Slow (Interlude)”: “This cloak on me, I got on cost me a little juice/ Convict like Akon, talk shit like Draymond/ If you talk hard and don’t play hard, get zipped up like Akron/ N---- blowin' up like napalm/ .23 like LeBron.”
When Sheck isn’t shouting his declarations of an adventurous youth and his newfound fame (accompanied by his ever-poetic “bitch!” ad-libs), he does a kind of whisper-sing to cool off, and then comes back in on 10, which is never not effective. If nothing else, he has charisma. Lots of it. More than enough to keep him on your radar.
Mudboy is not the strongest debut. I’m on the fence. Sheck Wes is definitely onto something, and is hard to resist. When he says “What they screamin'?/ ‘Live Sheck Wes,’ what they screamin'?/ ‘Don’t die Sheck Wes, we need you here Sheck Wes/ You gotta stay alive Sheck Wes’, I will” on the fuzzy-sounding standout “Never Lost,” the sentiment resonates. Because I still want to witness what he does next.