Lil Herb's debut effort, "Welcome To Fazoland", is a strong mix of drill and soul-inspired production, all connected with Herbo's hard-hitting flow.
With Chief Keef, King L, Lil Reese and Lil Durk signing to major labels in 2013, Chicago's drill scene saw all of its major stars graduating to more commercial successes, leaving vacancies in the underground mixtape scene that the genre was born from. Enter Lil Bibby and Lil Herb, two MCs ages 19 and 18, respectively, who seemed to be the "Heir Apparents" to the scene, especially after using that term as the name of their joint mixtape.
Instead of merely accepting the torch passed to them, and carrying on in the exact same way as their predecessors, Bibby and Herb present a more lyrical version of drill. Bibby released his big debut, Free Crack, in December 2013, and now it's Herb's turn in the spotlight with Welcome To Fazoland.
This tape, hosted by Don Cannon and named for Herb's fallen comrade Fazo, mixes classic, hard-edged drill beats with some more soulful fare, with Herbo's relentless flow acting as the connecting thread between the two. His fast-paced rapping, which is comparable to a freight train plowing over everything in its path, is what first got him noticed in his series of tracks called "4 Minutes of Hell," billed as "FOUR MINUTES OF STRAIGHT BARZ" on YouTube. This was meant to (and did) distinguish him from his less wordy peers in drill, and the third installment of this series graces Fazoland with its hook-less fury. But perhaps to avoid being labelled an underground lyricist, Herb put the mixtape's most radio-ready track, the Durk-assisted "On The Corner," directly after "4 Minutes of Hell Pt. 3." Also featuring KD Young Cocky, "On The Corner" is the one track on Fazoland that's sure to stick in your head, thanks to a bangin' beat and Durk's catchy chorus.
Finding other catchy singles on Fazoland is difficult, but it's clear that the mixtape's main goal isn't to get as much airplay as possible. Many of the mixtape's tracks are adventurous for drill standards, incorporating more minimal, soulful instrumentals. In fact, several songs are very reminiscent of fellow Chicago MC Tree's self-described style of "soul-trap." Tree's always been talked about in opposition to the prevailing drill scene, but on songs like "Fight Or Flight," "Write Your Name" and especially "Still Fucked Up," Herb proves that the two styles can exist in harmony with one another.
As far as guest spots go, Herb keeps things local, assembling an all-star roster of drill heavy-hitters for a few effective cameos. Surprisingly, his buddy Bibby only shows up for one track, tape closer "All I Got," but the pair's chemistry remains intact from their Heir Apparents days. Some of Herb's best rapping on Fazoland comes on the Lil Reese-assisted "On My Soul," a mid-tempo track that rails against "woulda shoulda coulda niggas."
On Fazoland, Herb sets out to prove that he can run with the stars that put his city back on the map, while also looking to distance himself from some of the stereotypes that are associated with drill music. For one, there's very little use of auto-tune on here, with Durk's "On The Corner" hook being the only instance that springs to mind. Instead of using warbly melodies, Herb opts for more adventurous methods of rapping, sometimes flowing like a humorless version of Migos, which is effective at times, but monotonous at others.
Herb's best hook comes in the form of his hurried rapping on "Designer," a song in which he declares his lack of interest in the clothing brands most rappers reference. This strategy of finding unique ways to talk about overused topics in rap is one that Herb uses across the entire tape, whether its his simultaneous disapproval and acceptance of violence, or his heartfelt but unrepentant ode to his mother, Herb seems hellbent on re-envisioning drill as a style. It's not going to have a revolutionary result at this point, as Fazoland can feel a little scattered at times, but Herb and Bibby have both started something special here. Drill is evolving, and though this mixtape isn't necessarily the genre's best moment, it's a sign of good things to come, both for Herb and for the future of Chicago rap.