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Monday, May 20, 2024
The Observer

From ‘Mo Bamba’ to ‘Mudboy’ — Sheck Wes sets himself apart

Ruby Le

One day, a Harlem teenager had to make a pivotal decision. Option one was to attend his high school basketball team’s playoff round matchup. Option two was to be a model in the biggest hip-hop/high fashion crossover event to date, Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion line release. Sheck Wes, that teenager, chose the latter, and things have worked out pretty well for him since.

Wes dabbled in the world of modeling street style before he found he had a knack for making music. His first track, “Mo Bamba,” garnered the attention of two of hip-hop’s key players, Travis Scott and Kanye West, who signed Wes to a joint record deal through Scott’s Cactus Jack Records and West’s G.O.O.D. Music.

And then, “Mo Bamba” really took off. The track has simple beginnings, recorded in one take, according to Wes’ interview with the New York Times, and named after University of Texas basketball star Mo Bamba. Yet now, over a year after it was released, the song has reached a new peak on the Billboard chart, thanks to a variety of converging factors: constant play at clubs and house parties, the song’s namesake being drafted in the first round by the Orlando Magic and public co-signs from Drake and Travis Scott. Not to mention the undeniable catchiness of the track, with its droning hook, cryptic piano and pounding bass.

With “Mo Bamba” still climbing to new heights, the increasingly popular Wes released his debut album, “Mudboy.” The album is a prominent statement regarding the young rapper’s style, which immediately sets Wes apart from many of his peers in the game. “Mudboy” makes it clear that Wes isn’t a trap rapper or a SoundCloud rapper; he’s something different. At times, this different style can be truly gripping, and at others it can be a bit much.

The beats across “Mudboy” are far from what you’d hear Lil Yachty rapping over; instead they’re eerie, dark and captivating. Wes pulls together a team of lesser-known producers to handle production, with new names 16yrold and YungLunchBox sourcing a majority of the trippy beats. The rattling bass of “Mo Bamba” and the resonating guitar plucks of “Vetements Socks” are two highlights, each adding a refreshing element to their respective tracks. Yet on other tracks the production becomes distracting, like with the strobing synths that dominate the track “Chippi Chippi.”

Wes’s delivery is a key element of the style that emerges on “Mudboy.” He shines when he’s shouting, catching the listener’s ear with every word. There’s a rage and aggression in his voice that could only be delivered by a young teenager with boundless energy. On “Live Sheck Wes,” he repeats the line “Live Sheck Wes, b----, I’m dying Sheck Wes” with compelling force. “Wanted” finds the Harlem native shouting off the New York streets he figuratively runs down as cops chase him on every block. His ad-libs are entertainingly aggressive as well, as he emphatically shouts out vulgarities on nearly every track. However, when Wes switches out of this flow, his songs are notably lacking, as is the case on “Burn Slow (Interlude).”

The lyrics on “Mudboy” are especially interesting, as they’re closely tied to Wes’s home and his own life. On “WESPN,” Wes provides a tribute to his days spent skipping school to watch ESPN, an activity any sports fan would enjoy during the glory days of the channel. But Wes does poignantly add that skipping sports to attend a fashion show was “one of my best decisions (Facts).” On a more somber note, Wes repeatedly references the struggles he and his friends have faced in his hometown, with lines like “It gets tragic where I live, everything is negative” painting a bleak picture of the world that created Sheck Wes.

Artist: Sheck Wes

Album: “Mudboy”

Label: Cactus Jack Records/G.O.O.D. Music/Interscope Record

Favorite Tracks (Besides “Mo Bamba”): “Live Sheck Wes,” “Wanted,” “Vetements Socks”

If you like: Travis Scott, Pusha T, Juice WRLD

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5