Nav misses the mark completely on his second full-length.
Nav thinks he’s an enigma. The Toronto-adjacent rapper/producer grew a fervent following on Soundcloud before his mainstream debut on a Travis Scott record that left many wondering just who he was. Nav favours dark trap songs for the millennial set but his limited songwriting and vocal range leave listeners with very little to grasp on. The XO-affiliated rapper was supposed to quit the rap game this year – whether inspired by Lil Uzi Vert’s own retirement or frustrated with his lack of discernable success – but came out of it to remind us he was the first brown boy to get it poppin’ with the aptly-named Brown Boy EP, followed by the full-length Bad Habits, his second overall. It’s an album that fails to answer questions about Nav’s identity or sell us on why we should care about him.
Nav’s retirement felt nonplussed; it was a farewell that didn’t feel like a threat, merely a deflated pledge instead. Bad Habits was supposed to be his grand return, essentially giving us the "real" Nav. While Nav's penmanship as a songwriter may leave much to be desired, as a producer, Nav’s vocabulary tends to be more developed. The sound of Bad Habits harkens to Nav’s early Soundcloud days; he dials back the whining and self-aggrandizing which soured Reckless, opting to stay within his comfort zone: Atlanta-via-Toronto bass-heavy space trap intended to soundtrack after-hours drives and loft parties. The Weeknd shows up with an executive producer credit on Bad Habits and one could credit the album’s pop sheen to him – it’s an album that suffices as an entire Rap Caviar playlist on its own.
But the issue is the listener still can’t seem to glean what Nav wants to do. As a rapper, Nav yearns to embody the trap crooner aesthetic Southern rappers popularized years ago, daring to go as far as nicking recognizable vocal patterns. Oftentimes, he sounds like Offset on Bad Habits – the Migos rapper’s cadences mimicked down to the exact vocal lilts. There are times where he tries his best Swae Lee impression, employing a swooping falsetto that fails to impress. There are vocal performances found on “To My Grave” and “Tension” recall a pre-Astroworld Travis Scott. Then there’s Lil Uzi Vert, who hangs over Bad Habits like a haunted spectre – an intended verse written for “Habits” is rapped by Nav instead, fumbling and losing the pocket much like a karaoke singer unfamiliar with a song would. He’s not capable of embodying the paranoid hedonist, his braggadocio dragged down by clunky writing and a grating voice. "I'm givin' bitches pity fucks," he says on "Taking Chances" before later following up with "We gon' shoot first and watch 'em duck." Nav should sound ruthless; instead, he comes off like he’s reciting a grocery list.
An unintended byproduct of this Atlanta pastiche is that when rappers familiar with the mode show up on Bad Habits, their performances tend to mark Nav irrelevant in the process. Meek Mill turns in a guest verse on “Tap” that succeeds in finding the sweet spot between his trademark high energy and Nav’s languid soundscapes. “Amazing,” a song found on the deluxe version, taps Future and while he is very much in his DS2-on-autopilot mode here, he still succeeds in wrestling away the spotlight. Lil Durk shows up on two songs (“Time Piece” and “OK”) and makes better use of the trap production, transforming them into personal showcases. Ascendant star Gunna turns Nav’s melody inside-out on “Hold Your Breath,” sounding far more capable as he brags of buying orange Lambos and draping designer on women. Then there’s Young Thug, who goes as far as admitting attraction to a relative on “Tussin,” yelping his way across the lush, droning landscape. Meanwhile, Nav is sandwiched between two verses, only capable of mustering up vague come-ons and empty threats. Standing next to Young Thug, Nav’s star power is blown out completely.
What’s the deal with Nav? His continued collaboration with stars as lofty as the Carters, not to mention Travis Scott and the Weeknd suggest there’s something we’re missing about him. Yet each personal showcase he offers fails to yield anything memorable. “Diamonds hittin' left, right. I'm just living my best life," Nav faux-sneers on “I’m Ready” sounding hesitant and reluctant to give the song his all. Does Nav really want to be a star? His worst habits as a songwriter revolve around a dearth of interesting ideas, something which comes into focus when he ends up overshadowed by the guests who feature on his songs. If the threat of retirement could only coax the merely serviceable Bad Habits, is Nav capable of taking his songwriting to the heights he desires?