In late February, Harlem’s self-proclaimed renaissance man Sheck Wes said in an interview, “I’m a mudboy. I came from the mud, oozed out the concrete. I’m not a rose. I’m a mudboy, I came from nothing.” This mantra, this self-bestowed label is all you need to know about Sheck Wes and his music; everything is raw. Life, in his eyes, is an endless grind, one that requires a commitment to grittiness while balancing genuine action and thought. On his major label debut, the electrifying 19-year-old ordains himself as both rap’s next prince and its next executioner.
Wes’s unconventional childhood and interests are the driving forces to his off-the-cuff aura. Wes split his adolescent years in Milwaukee and Harlem, but he attributes his time in the northern Manhattan neighborhood to his budding musical senses. At the age of 11, Wes was training his wild tendencies by studying the likes of New York legends DMX and Ol’ Dirty Bastard all while making music and focusing on basketball. It wasn’t until he was discovered by Yeezy Season 3 fashion talent scouts that he was conflicted with how he wanted his life path to proceed. In addition, a short trip to Senegal, his parents’ home country, finally gave him the enlightenment he needed to fulfill his desire for music. The rest, as they say, is history.
Wes, who’s signed to a joint record deal between Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music label and Travis Scott’s fairly-recently-curated Cactus Jack label, embodies something close to a stolen firecracker: he’s unpredictable and turbulent, yet powerful and relentless. Often on Mudboy, fiery instrumentals that are painted with mesmerizing synth leads and booming drums sound unmixed and coarse, but this only elaborates onto Wes’s consistent aesthetic. Third-person flexes are less about what he has and more about what he’s become. The cover in itself shows something baptismal, as if Sheck Wes is binding himself to this way of life.
Everyone wants to talk about “Mo Bamba,” Sheck’s self-serving launch pad named after his childhood friend and a 2018 1st Round NBA draft pick. It was one of his first SoundCloud singles and there’s good reason: The Take A Daytrip club hit is the intersection between well-crafted simplicity and disorienting filthiness; following the track’s glimmering piano line, Sheck’s first line of “I got hoeeeeeeeessssss, caaallllinnggggg” is magnetic and too memorable to go unnoticed; Wes’s patented “BITCH” ad-libs are thick with rage and automatically counteract any opposition that dares challenge him. Yet, it’s, undoubtedly, the depth of the tracks around the year’s biggest banger that elevates this project to one of the year’s best overall projects.
“Live Sheck Wes,” another single (before, it was titled and stylized as “Live SheckWes Die SheckWes”) features a demonic digital melody and a thrashing bass just for Sheck Wes to rip it to shreds. Here, he describes how he will die as the same person who lived his life, which is another fine call of genuineness. Personal favorite “Jiggy on the Shits” lolls with deep crystalized Rhoades sounds and a metallic guitar in one of the more detailed instrumentals. On “Never Lost,” Sheck Wes shows versatility with a deep and personal cut. “Kyrie” features Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving’s infamous “suck my dick!” response after a fan asked him about ex-teammate LeBron James. Sheck clearly shows he doesn’t need help, for the project itself has no featured artists. It’s all Sheck, all the time.
In the age where simple trap-inspired music is trying to carve its niche – production such as that of Tay Keith and Pi’erre Bourne, effortless lyricism of Playboi Carti and unmixed instrumentals of South Florida SoundCloud rap all have their hand in influencing these likes – it seems like Sheck Wes is the one who started the trend. Sheck Wes is fire, and his death-defying style is striking. Mudboy is an exercise in talent and obligation to a game plan and the result is a shockwave in a Harlem kid’s crazy, unfiltered world.