It’s taken some time, but a number of young rappers are beginning to distance themselves from the DIY, mumbly origins of SoundCloud rap. Floridians Ski Mask the Slump God and Denzel Curry have crafted Southern Gothic, high-energy records to demonstrate their songwriting chops and captivating eccentricities. Trippie Redd and Lil Yachty have worked their way into pop territory by emphasizing equal parts melodic thoughtfulness and emo sensitivity.

The success of these internet-birthed hip-hop figures has turned up the heat on other teenage-plus SoundCloud kings. One of these is Yung Bans, a 20-year-old artist running in Atlanta music circles with figures like Playboi Carti and Future (although Bans’ association with XXXTentacion has arguably been just as important to the growth of his fanbase). While his mixtapes have successfully tapped into lo-fi atmospherics to hypnotic effect (particularly on standouts “Out” and “Easter Pink”), Bans’ debut album, Misunderstood, finds the rapper trying to branch out into bigger, bolder sounds to mixed effect.

There are two key ways that Bans diversifies his palette: moving towards electronic/dance styles and locating a pleasantly high-spirited bounciness. The main quasi-EDM track is the LP’s opener, “Going Wild,” which represents Misunderstood’s most fascinating moment. Co-produced by WondaGurl, Bugz Ronin and Ian Jeffrey Thomas, the song’s instrumental includes an inspiring breakdown that shifts the track from burbling, basic trap to Diplo-level, pitched-up mosh. Listeners will have trouble locating such experimentation on the album’s other 18 songs, although “Shawty / In Love with All My Bitches” similarly interpolates a notable transitional moment (this one is stickier and seems a little forced) and the beginning seconds of “Going Bezurk” almost seem like a Khotin outtake.

Misunderstood’s peppier tracks include “Touch the Stars” and “I Don’t Even Crip,” both of which make the brazen decision to veer away from drug-induced haziness. The former channels Big Pun’s “Still Not a Player” by placing a group of effervescent piano chords at its center, while the latter’s trembling, slapping bass line wouldn’t be out of place on an Eminem/Dr. Dre collab. The problem is that Yung Bans’ lyricism isn’t yet anywhere near the levels of the ‘90s artists that these songs attempt to mimic.

This isn’t to say that the album lacks memorable lyrics altogether—instead, its poetry drifts to the surface for mere momentary pleasure. In the first verse of “Prada Zombie,” for example, there’s a wonderful “kickback”/“Tic Tac”/“mismatch” sequence that underscores three different kinds of taste: metal, mint, Margiela. He then ends up comparing himself to a lighthouse on “How Da Game Go,” and Young Thug comes through to brag about selling soap disguised as molly on “Hold Up.” But the topics Bans broaches remain limited (he so frequently discusses his fondness for necklaces that one wonders why he hasn’t worked with 2 Chainz), and he’s clearly not as weird or playful as some of the other artists in his cohort, like Lil Uzi Vert or Juice WRLD.

In the end, the main element missing from Misunderstood is polish. Yung Bans hasn’t taken the time or shown he has the resources to debut with a bang, and the album ends up sitting uncomfortably between big-budget shit and raw product. He would have done better to wait until he had access to a decked-out studio space (Bans has continued to record from home, in part because he’s on house arrest) or asked his producers to locate a broader swath of low quality sonics with which he could experiment. As it is, the LP doesn’t reveal an artist that’s misunderstood so much as one that’s still striving to understand and convey his peculiar talents.

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