You might be forgiven for not yet knowing Rich the Kid. The 25 year old, though having been in the game since 2013, has only recently enjoyed a meteoric rise propelling him to international fame. At this year’s Brit awards, UK Twitter dubbed him “Kendrick’s personal car smasher” after he was seen demolishing an expensive vehicle on stage as part of an elaborate performance by the world’s biggest rapper.
The song performed by Lamar at that event, though, was not part of his own collection. Instead, it was his verse on Rich the Kid’s breakthrough hit New Freezer. The track, dropped last year as the lead single from The World Is Yours, is a bouncy party banger celebrating the glorious feeling of having just copped some new jewellery. It’s catchy, braggadocious, and features bars from Compton’s finest, as if it were crafted specifically to catapult an artist into the mainstream. Much of the album, indeed, follows in this same vein, with a star-studded cast that is perhaps only one Drake cameo away from guaranteeing a chart-topping record.
One shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Rich needs these bigger artists to produce a hit, however. The solo number Plug Walk, currently climbing the charts in the US, is arguably the superior of the album’s two big singles, thanks to its infectious video game like beat and slow, rhythmic flow. So, too, does the closer Dead Friends impress, as Rich insults his rival (fellow rap new boy Lil Uzi Vert) as a “lil man” whose “money’s getting shorter” – a beef that older rap fans might scoff at, but that still grants us some entertainment. The track’s soaring production manages to create something you can’t resist bumping along to, even in the absence of a melodic hook or big guest verse. Rich the Kid certainly seems to be trying hard to lay claim as the heir to the party rap throne, and if he plays his cards right, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine him taking the place of the likes of Drake and Big Sean in 5 years’ time.
The World Is Yours falls short in its variety of styles, though. If anything is going to prevent Rich from reaching the highest echelons of hip hop, it would be his reluctance to step outside of the box labelled “trap bangers”. It’s easy for several of the songs on here to blur together, with many of Rich’s flows seeming incredibly similar. Rich also has a strange tendency to rhyme everything with the word “movie”, revealing a certain lack of comfort with his lyricism, or maybe just an element of laziness. Tracks like Made It, Lost It, and Early Morning Trappin, while good and enjoyable, seem like attempts to reproduce the formula of New Freezer and Plug Walk without the unique production that made those songs truly stellar. On several occasions, Rich the Kid is saved by his features, such as on Too Gone where Khalid’s crooning elevates the status from “decent song” to “potential future hit”. Unexpected appearances from old boys like Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, and Chris Brown also add a level of flavour to the record that might not have otherwise been present. Brown’s silky R&B hook on Drippin, in particular, provides an intriguing contrast to Rich’s gritty and slurred style of rap.
Yet, there are still some flashes of brilliance and innovation tucked away here. Small Things gives the listener an insight into what Rich the Kid might sound like if he dropped the façade somewhat and embraced a softer subject matter. Glistening beats provide the backdrop to a song where Rich brags that “when she call me I might pick up”, imagining his dream life with a woman. Even here, though, he can’t resist throwing in the usual references to cars (skrrt skrrt!) and chains. Rich is dedicated to the “money way” and so may never truly stray out of these lyrical boundaries. But there are plenty of rappers who sacrifice prowess and word play in favour of the pursuit of ever catchier, ever bigger hits, and one senses this is the motive behind this particular album. Listen Up provides a further look into how a harder, more electronic form of production can complement Rich the Kid’s style perfectly. If he could apply the same elsewhere, veering away from traditional trap beats and into a more varied range of styles while keeping his tone and lyrical themes the same, then his music might be pushed into the next level.
Rich the Kid is probably never going to be talked about in the same terms as his collaborator Kendrick Lamar. It’s almost impossible to imagine him dropping something like To Pimp a Butterfly, riddled with political commentary and flirtations with the avant garde. But what he can do, and should do, is emulate the Kendrick of 2017’s Damn and be unashamedly poppy. Rich is young and inexperienced, but this album and its hits prove he knows how to make fun, pumped up hip hop. Why bother listening to the naysayers who condemn him for being “shallow”, when he can simply refine and improve his style and watch the money roll in? And I imagine that that’s exactly what we will see him do.