When The Life Of Pablo’s second track, “Pt. 2,” kicked in over MSG’s speakers in February, the gargantuan listening party was overtaken by the song’s quick, strangely infectious hook, a deep, distorted, voice, proclaiming “I got broads in Atlanta.” For most hip-hop fans in attendance, the reaction was instantaneous: Muffled vocals? Quick, catchy phrasing combined with a just-as-speedy flow? Atlanta reference? This track was making use of the prolific rap superstar Future. Duh.
Except it wasn’t. As details of the album continued to trickle out, the credits were cleared up. The guy boasting about broads in Atlanta wasn’t Future, the city’s reigning rap kingpin, it was Desiigner, from Bed-Stuy, a recent signee of West’s GOOD Music label and a Fallon-esque impressionist of a certain styrofoam cup-favoring rap star. Desiigner had actually released “Panda,” the broad-referencing song Kanye was sampling on “Pt. 2,” in December of 2015, when it largely fell on deaf ears. There wasn’t much of an audience for another unknown teen rapper from Brooklyn then. But following the release of Pablo and Kanye’s co-sign, the single was re-released this February to incredible commercial success.
So began 19-year-old Desiigner’s path, eventually leading to the June release of his first mixtape, New English, a 35-minute-long sprint, filled to the brim with short, succinct trap anthems. New English makes extensive use of the rapper’s seemingly endless well of energy, with only two short features: one from his de facto boss, GOOD Music President Pusha T, and one from King Savage, another Bed-Stuy native rapper who grew up with Desiigner. “Zombie Walk,” the track that Savage appears on, was originally recorded back in 2014 and also initially released in 2015.
Stylistically, New English continues Desiigner’s habit of mimicking Future, a rapper so prolific (he’s put out no less than four mixtapes and two albums since the start of 2015) and so popular that his influence has spread well beyond hip-hop. There was a Future feature on the latest Ariana Grande record for God’s sake; he’s everywhere. New English’s sound is more than just influenced by Future’s hazy demeanor, clouded voice and dark mood, and it’s more than similar to Metro Boomin’s slick production–it’s nearly identical, derivative even. Has Future’s sound become so prevalent that even total Future knockoffs can be successful? The answer would seem to be a resounding, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs YES, as “Panda,” which closes out New English, has become ubiquitous in the truest sense, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100–a feat that Future himself has yet to conquer.
“Panda” is Desiigner’s perfect showcase, capturing his greatest quality for four minutes and eight seconds–that undeniable, unparalleled energy. Check out the song’s debut performance last month on The Late Show and the adrenaline-dripping performance of the song on this past weekend’s BET Awards: that guy is on fire. Jumping, shouting, dancing, and dabbing, all while navigating his way around the stage and through the crowd, the unbridled enthusiasm is addicting. “Panda” has put Desiigner in the position to become a power player among the hip-hop’s elite if he can continue to follow up with strong, exciting work.
That’s not to say that there’s no room for a little ribbing. While New English is a solid half-hour that flashes a lot of potential, it’s certainly not yet on the level of some hip-hop contemporaries. Luckily, the 19-year-old can continue to hone his unique flow and endless supply of energy for the next few months–his debut album Life Of Desiigner is expected to be released later in 2016.
An interesting place for the young rapper to venture to for some self-discovery is on display in a recent freestyle that he did after being named a part of XXL’s 2016 freshman class. In the 45-second clip, he ditches everything that his short-but-prolific brand has been built on–all that animation is dialed down–and he brings it back with a metaphor that uses Timmy Turner, a character from Nickelodeon’s The Fairly Oddparents, as part of an allegory about his own upbringing and that of others from similarly underprivileged New York neighborhoods. As fun as “Panda,” can be, it’s something like this that could be really interesting–directly ripping Future’s style can only last for so long.
As with anything, what matters more is the marathon, not the sprint. There’s little question that “Panda” has won the sprint–Billboard #1 status, 265 million streams on Spotify and tweets from Bob Saget will attest to that. But that doesn’t stop the dreaded “One-Hit-Wonder” label from dangling–there was a time when Trinidad James and his all-gold-everything mantra seemed promising, too. To sustain, Desiigner will have to channel his energy selectively and use it correctly; the right balance must be struck. One of the things that makes the artist he so clearly wants to emulate great is that Future can ramp up his energy just as easily as he can bring it back down. Desiigner would do well to emulate this range with the same enthusiasm that he has mirrored Future’s style.
In “Champions,” the first single for the new GOOD Music collective album, Cruel Winter, Desiigner is involved, but this time in only a minor role, with veterans Kanye, 2 Chainz, and Big Sean taking the spotlight. The previous GOOD Music compilation, Cruel Summer, wasn’t exactly a success–outside of a few catchy singles, it missed the mark on resonating, and included a breakout campaign for Cyhi The Prince that sizzled out before it even got to the Iowa Caucuses. On “Champions,” Desiigner’s energy is still there and his presence is still felt, despite the bigger stars in the forefront–and that’s a good thing.
One way or another, though, now these two artists will continue to be linked and compared. Future has already proven himself over the long-term, and made it clear that his chosen career path and style are sustainable. But he had such a slow burn to get there–even early mixtapes aside, Future had to suffer the letdown of his 2014 album Honest before really hitting his stride and attaining true commercial and critical ascent last year. The question is if Desiigner will be the Pearl Jam to Future’s Nirvana, or if he’ll instead be the Jet to Future’s White Stripes. From here, it’s blurry–only time will tell if the kid from Bed-Stuy will be able to make it to Astronaut status like Atlanta’s king has.