People were convinced that the anonymous MC was actually an alter ego of Nas.
Your Old Droog is a husky voiced, Ukranian-American rapper from Brooklyn whose music sounds like it should be included free when you purchase a Pelle Pelle jacket. He’s a throwback rapper with a penchant for dusty beats and a keen eye for detail that caused a major conspiracy back when he first rose to prominence in 2014. It’s hard to believe now, but people were convinced that the anonymous MC was actually an alter ego of Nas.
Packs is his second studio album, and it cements his status as an old school revivalist along with the likes of Roc Marciano or Westside Gunn; the musical embodiment of those New York memes where inanimate objects are wearing Timberlands and a fitted Yankee hats. There’s nothing wrong with bringing a ‘90s headiness to hip-hop and being lyrically driven in an era where delivery is prized over dexterity, but at times Droog relies on references and clichés that make his music feel more dated than it is, which belies his wit and gift for narrative.
Anthony Jeselnik pops up three times on the album, but with only 26 seconds of air time he barely has the chance to announce himself or unleash any of his patented brand of shock humor. As such, his presence is both forgettable and distracting. At one point he pokes fun at Dem Franchize Boyz, which comes across as an edgeless anti-radio rap joke that makes you feel like Packs was written in 2007 instead of 2017.
There isn’t too much race talk on the record, but when Droog does muse on his status as a white artist in a predominantly black artform it feels labored and antiquated. On “White Rappers (A Good Guest)”, Droog responds to a 2013 comment from Brand Nubian’s Lord Jamar about how white rappers are “guests in the house of hip-hop.”
The beat is funky and whimsical, with flanging guitars, and Droog could have used it to take a more satirical approach the topic, but instead he drops his usual punchlines, including a Don’t Be A Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood reference and an uncomfortably direct line about his feelings on feminism, punctuating the track with a grating hook. “What matters is the beats and if the emcee goes in/ Its not about the color, its not about the color/ It’s not about the color of your skin,” he warbles.
On “I Only” he spits, “At the moment whites don’t claim me/ But I’mma fucking go platinum when they embrace me,” which is more joke than genuine complaint but does come across more bitter than Droog probably intended.
Still, when Droog focuses on storytelling and punchlines, he’s a blast to listen to. While he does drop the occasional dud (“Come Halloween I’m the wrong one to egg on”), Droog succeeds far more often than he fails, and is capable of mind-blowing, masterful bars. “Four Megatron limbs harmin’ ‘em with homonyms / Far from PC, I’m VC with his arm in the rim,” he raps on the riotous “Grandma Hips.”
“GKAC” (short for “Gotta Kill a Cop”) is chilling and fatalistic, with a touch of Droog’s dark humor. The rapper paints a harrowing portrait of a man with mental health issues driven to murder a police officer. The song starts with his adolescence (“Ain’t like he went to ranges and learned to spray gats/ So he practices on baseheads and stray cats”) and ends with his demise in a shootout (“Kept bucking, like an old soldier/ ‘Til one of their slugs caught him in the shoulder”), and the beat grows more unhinged and chaotic to match the narrative.
He also shines on “You Can Do It! (Give Up).” Droog weaves three distinct, star-crossed tales of a basketball player, a beautiful, yet untalented woman, and an saging rapper, all of whom missed their big break. It’s an old school rap parable delivered with both biting wit and surprising compassion by Droog, and stands as one of the album’s clear highlights.
Elsewhere, Droog continues to hone his personality as a wily rhymer on tracks like “Bangladesh” with Heems or “Help,” which features a choice verse from Ratking’s Wiki. “Rapman” feels a bit dated, loaded with homages to Eric B. & Rakim and 3rd Base, as well as a bizarre reference to Thich Quang Duc, the self-immolating Vietnamese monk. Still, it’s fun to hear Droog bashing lesser MCs with so much bluster.
It’d be fascinating to watch Droog work with a rapper from New York’s new school of MCs, a Young M.A. or A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie (who is sampled very briefly on “My Girl is a Boy”), but there’s no point in holding our breath. For better or worse, Droog is completely comfortable in his pocket, dropping strong vintage bars and crafting rich narrative with the occasional Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino moment.