Moneybagg Yo needs some recognition.
On Friday, we received a few high-profile releases. There was one that got stuck in some sort of middle-ground-- not only when it comes to the media cycle and coverage therein, but even on streaming services-- I’m referring to Moneybagg Yo and his new album RESET.
The Memphis-bred rapper has been out here. “Out here” meaning “online” and “online” meaning “releasing a shit ton of music.” It’s been awhile too. He started the transition from the local to national consciousness of rap fans after singing to Yo Gotti in 2016 -- already four years of releases under his belt at the time, all mixtapes. He’s the type of talent that is not over night. He is the type of talent that is locally-produced and organic-- although that may sound like I’m referring to some sort of vegetable, I am not. These are both important factors to consider when discussing quality and consistency. To put it another way, so my point is acutely clear: Moneybagg Yo is not an overnight sensation with a viral hit to his name, nor is he an Internet-cultivated rapper.
The Yo Gotti co-sign was the slight push forward that the rapper needed to gain interest and recognition from outside of Memphis. He was already a known and well-liked rapper locally, a technique which may not be used very often today, but one which Money has prided himself on. It may be that this effort; the one to gain local recognition is what has propelled him to cultivate such a strong work ethic, which by extension, is basically why I am writing this in the first place (!). That work ethic has led to fifteen mixtape releases from 2012 until now, and a distinct style and voice. This past year alone, there were three, including RESET. I am definitely not going to say I’ve listened to every single Moneybagg Yo project front-to-back, that I know all the words -- far from it. I have a feeling though, that if I did, I would not be disappointed. I now know what to expect from a Moneybagg Yo release; and there is nary a disappointment in sight.
Here’s the thing about Moneybagg. I can’t name that one hit single that tipped him over the edge. Because, there hasn’t been. His releases are a top-to-bottom type of listen, each song as bump-worthy as the last; so much so it becomes hard to actually single out one song. Every time I listen to his second release of 2018, Bet on Me, my “favourite” song changes -- and mostly, it ends up being a collection of three or so “favourites” (and the project itself is 9 songs total). Bet on Me was my own introduction to Moneybagg too, to be fair-- and once I had been acquainted, I was a) extremely upset I had not been on the Moneybagg Bandwagon (if there is one) sooner and b) obviously going to play catch-up with his previous releases.
I would liken Moneybagg to Kevin Gates for a couple of reasons. First, Gates is another Southern artist who became an immense local star before moving to conquer the rest of the North America, and second, each artist inspires with a melodic gravel, street tales, an authenticity in their voice, and every now and then, some random funny shit. It’s not an unfair nor far-reaching comparison either. The two have collaborated to great effect (most recently on the amazing guitar-laden sad-girl twerk anthem “Fall Down”), with Moneybagg even offering up advice from Gates in the intro to 2 Heartless. “Kevin Gates told me stay focused / Don’t get out your element”-- it sounds like advice Moneybagg took to heart, too.
What is it about a Moneybagg Yo project that makes each one so consistently strong? Let’s go back to that advice from Gates. You will not find Moneybagg out of his element. In fact, he brought J. Cole into his element on the new album, with “Say Na.” And, somehow, it’s actually one of the least exciting songs on RESET (but again, it should be known there is really no such thing as a bad Moneybagg Yo song). Moneybagg’s element is more or less decided and driven by his life in the streets, his history growing up in South Memphis. However, it’s not all rough gangster talk, Moneybagg is surprisingly malleable when he wants to be, imbuing powerful emotion into his vocals and stark honesty into his lyrics. On “FWM” with Lil Baby, Moneybagg uses the chorus to deliver heart-wrenching bits of information his past, a melancholy flow adding to the outpouring: “I went to jail my mama cried, it still fuck with a n*gga, yeah / I really witnessed a homicide, it still fuck with a n*gga, yeah / Got the phone call, my n*gga died, it still fuck with a n*gga, yeah I really struggled before the shine, it still fuck with a n*gga.” This same bleak candor appears on “Acquittal,” off a collaborative album between Moneybagg and NBA Youngboy, Fed Baby’s. Moneybagg raps, “Face a blunt to ease the stress, yeah / Looked up, damn I got a warrant / Having thoughts of jumping bonds Can't afford no fuckin' lawyer / Now a n*gga on the run / My family helpless, no time to be selfish (why you say that?) / Too many tragedies, almost left me breathless (almost killed a n*gga).” This song is another that is clearly, and emotionally, derived from a bout of struggle. It’s one that will ease the minds of many others too, just as it undoubtedly eased Moneybagg to create it.
Moneybagg has an uncanny ability to tap into basically every aspect of emotion; every aspect of real life shit-- which makes the music relatable even if the content itself is foreign (i.e., no, I have not been in a situation where I was on the run/couldn’t afford a lawyer) -- all the while keeping his perspective and his individuality intact. Injections of his personality on any given song; whether through an ad-lib or through one bar, make him even more likeable. He’s funny-- although he may not be trying, he is most likely aware of it (in the same way Young Thug can be hilarious, and while he definitely seems aware that he is funny, it does not seem to be on purpose). This is the case on a song like “No Cutt”: “The car came with no miles, I'm the only owner,” Moneybagg raps on the hook before ad-libbing: “I just copped this!” It’s hilarious, somehow, inadvertently.
Moneybagg Yo is also not afraid to share details about himself, or more aptly, to share himself, with his listeners. Every song is a chance at some new fact about Moneybagg, or the discovery of a facet of his personality. Among these quirks, there is his open distrust and dislike of the industry. On RESET, there’s a whole song dedicated to it: “Industry.” This all seems to go back to the fact that Moneybagg is not yet so disconnected from his roots, from his struggle. He may be in it still more than we know, or at least, it’s still in his rearview mirror, tailing him, refusing to move. A master manipulator, Moneybagg won’t let the good times nor the bad times go to waste-- he’ll use them to fuel more melodic trap bangers, time and time again. We’re here for it. You should be too.