In 2021, a year removed from the onset of the pandemic, Moneybagg Yo made his presence felt across radios in America with the release of A Gangsta’s Pain. While not his major label debut, it was surely a breakout moment after nearly a decade of grinding out mixtapes and EPs. He went from a fixture on WorldStarHipHop to a Grammy nomination – a testament to the sacrifices and labor that he put into his craft.
However, the release of Hard To Love, his latest mixtape, feels understated in his delivery. Despite a lengthy rollout that included the release of a handful of singles, his latest body of work doesn’t necessarily carry the same momentum as his last studio album. A Gangsta’s Pain, as he explained to HotNewHipHop in his first-ever cover story, was built on the dichotomy of his sound – half gangsta, half pain. The trunk-rattling anthems and soulful pain-riddled bars made up a 22-song tracklist that boasted an impressive array of features – Future, Lil Durk, Pharrell Williams, and more.
Hard To Love, in a sense, expounds on this further, albeit with a deeper focus on his pain. Whether it’s stretching his vocal range on songs like “No Show,” an opulent tale of heartbreak, or grappling with love and loyalty on “Going Thru It,” Bagg peels back the layers to his character for one of his most personal projects to date. It’s an interesting revelation for the casual listener. Bagg’s maintained quite a favorable persona in the past few years, largely because he’s kept a diamond-encrusted smile throughout the hardship. But, Hard To Love digs beneath the surface and allows fans into his otherwise shielded world.
Read More: All About Memphis Hitmaker Moneybagg Yo
Addressing The Criticism & Coping With Tragedy
“They Say,” the album opener, comprehensively captures the pressure Bagg faces. He bites back at those who doubted him with a keen sense of self-awareness. Despite establishing himself as a singular voice for the new generation of Memphis rap, he acknowledges the criticism that’s come with his success, like the fact that his biggest hits ride off of buzz phrases or that street politics often receive unwarranted social media commentary. “He only makes music if it’s a social media trend/ He ain’t did shit to them n****s who don’ killed his friend,” he raps.
Moneybagg Yo finds himself grappling with the perils of fame and the pressures that artists face to continue producing music at a rapid pace. But more importantly, the return of the Heartless mixtape series indicates that there’s far more healing that needs to be done in his life. From his girlfriend Ari Fletcher suffering a miscarriage and their relationship turmoil to the tragic death of the mother of his children, Moneybagg Yo details the series of events in the last two years and using drugs, specifically lean, as a coping mechanism.
“More Sick,” the album’s closer, brings Bagg to address the headlines over the past few years over melancholic guitar strings. However, he doesn’t necessarily succumb to the pain but rather provides a sense of resilience and hope in the face of adversity. On “Hurt Man,” Moneybagg Yo’s on the defense as he reminisces over the death of his artist Big Nuskie, rapping, “I'm sippin' syrup raw/ They tryna blame me for his death, talkin' 'bout it's my fault.” Still, there’s hope in his voice as he details his love for his niece, although he admits that his trust issues push him to put on a facade.
Moneybagg Yo Will Have The Summer On Lock
However, the project doesn’t solely rely on Bagg’s emotional baggage to produce some of the best moments. In the months leading up to the release of Hard To Love, Bagg unveiled a handful of hit-or-miss singles. “On Wat U On” faced criticism for replicating the back-and-forth of Kendrick Lamar and Taylour Paige on “We Cry Together.” However, a more accurate comparison would be Project Pat’s “Chickenhead” ft. Gangsta Boo. Some references to the traditional Memphis’ sounds are a bit more straightforward, such as “Where Ya Bih @” which employs a Three 6 Mafia-like flare. “F My BM” is a riveting yet hilarious outing when put into the context of the social media flare-up between himself and Poison Ivy over his newly opened restaurant.
Hard To Love isn't necessarily an AOTY contender, nor does it stand as a highlight in the Heartless series. However, Bagg proves he’s an effortless hitmaker with a wheelhouse of resources. Whether enlisting the talents of superstars like Future or Lil Durk to splash color on his tracklist or utilizing the homegrown talents of YTB FATT or GloRilla, Bagg’s latest project will undoubtedly ring off for the remainder of the summer. As he continues plotting his official follow-up to A Gangsta’s Pain, Hard To Love, if anything, is a solid precursor that indicates that his next project will be a level-up.