Desiigner flops hard on his debut project, "New English," which shows that he doesn't have much to offer beyond "Panda."
If you, like me, weren't one of the couple thousand people who had pressed play on the Soundcloud link Desiigner's "Panda" by the time you sat down to watch Kanye West's Life Of Pablo livestream this February, you were most likely among the millions who first assumed that the teenaged, "Broads in Atlanta"-touting Brooklyn rapper was actually Future. That's a pretty huge hole from which to exhume yourself just as you're getting started with your career, but Desiigner did it. With that one record out in the world, he signed with G.O.O.D. Music and saw "Panda" rocket to the top of the charts. Yes, it sounds like a Future song, but aside from "Wicked" or "Seven Rings," has Fewtch himself done anything in 2016 with equal hit potential? The mere fact that an 18-year-old from the conservative rap capital and an untested British producer who literally misses the Old Kanye came up with a commercial smash about Facebook flirting and goofy descriptions of BMWs is a modern-day chart miracle akin to OMI's "Cheerleader" or Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" (albeit with the added boost of Father Kanye stretching Desiigner's hands, and consequently, his reach). So yes, obviously all of you "'Panda' sounds like Future" naysayers were right, but as a critique of an artist's wildly successful debut single, it was flimsy at best.
Desiigner's debut tape, New English, has plenty of moments that prove he's more than just a Future clone, but the evidence it does present against his potential as a talented upstart is far more damning. We start off with the closest thing to "Panda" on the tape, the ambitiously repetitive "Caliber," and though Desiigner cycles through a few more styles before we do actually get "Panda" as a closer, he brings very little originality, emotion, or lyrical prowess to the table. Throughout the vicious drill/trap strains of "Make It Out"/"Shooters"/"Monstas & Villains" run, the trippier, La Flame-styled "Talk Regardless," "Roll Wit Me," and "Overnight," and yes, the undeniably Future-esque few final tracks, the initial common threads seem to be limited to the Desiigner's distinctive hooks (by "distinctive," I mean repeating the song's title an average of 29.6 times per song) and those same ad-libs we heard on "Panda" (AKA "GIT GIT GIT" and the one that sounds like a machine gun). This insistence on capitalizing upon the aspects of his career that made him a viral sensation locates Desiigner as part of the same self-memeing trend as Khaled's Snapchat-driven second act and Birdman's "Respek" tees-- the idea behind it being milking every trending topic, regardless of how banal or self-deprecating, for all it's worth. Not convinced that Desiigner belongs in this class? Consider that, after seeing the insane amount of online response to his XXL freestyle, he's decided to make those "Timmy Turner" bars into an entire track of their own, which will make him the first Freshman to flip his freestyle into a trck of its own.
Those are just the surface-level observations, but behind all of the bravado and self-marketing, there isn't much to analyze either. From lyrics as openly bad as "Fuck a bitch with a face on her" to concepts that all take trap tropes and add very little in the way of pathos, new perspectives, or insight, New English plays like a lab-concocted version of What's Hot in trap music, a void-filling stopgap to ease Kanye's mind when he realized that nobody in G.O.O.D. Music fit in with hip hop's most popular subgenre. The only aspects of the tape that make you stop and think, "Oh, that was unexpected," are the weird, Elizabethan still-life artwork, baroque orchestral interludes and the abrupt ends of a few tracks. After a few listens, they seem to be there just to trick you into thinking that you're experiencing high art-- somewhat akin to the meaningless, arty montages director Adam McKay put into "The Big Short" seemingly just to hammer home the point that he wasn't making dumb Will Ferrell comedies anymore.
Desiigner delivers a handful of good flows, and a few of the beats (particularly "Monstas & Villains" and "Talk Regardless") are powerful enough to deserve spots on better projects by more capable artists, but overall, New English is lackluster at best. It's not a mess-- the curation and sequencing all makes sense-- but unless this is the type of music that makes you turn up as unabashedly as Desiigner himself (for me personally, it's not), an empty feeling creeps in almost immediately after the last haunting notes of "Panda" die down. His energy and uninhibited stage presence are star-making qualities that we've already seen garner headlines, but as a recording artist, Desiigner is all bravado and no substance, something like a distant, watered-down nephew of Flockaveli.
Does G.O.O.D. Music have a plan for Desiigner beyond this tape and a forthcoming debut album? We'll see, but right now it really seems like Kanye signed him to get "Panda" on TLOP, then tossed him off to untested A&R Pusha T while shifting focus to more newsworthy non-musical exploits. As with many of the label's botched signings in the past, it's difficult to play "what if"-- Would "Panda" have been as huge without the TLOP exposure? Would Desiigner have developed more of a persona if left to his own devices? He's being held to higher standards because of the prestigious connections, and couple that with all of the Future ripoff talk, you have to cut him at least a bit of slack. If he doesn't quickly prove that he's actually deeper than New English suggests though, he's not going to be able to make it out of the kiddie pool.