Of the three rap LPs that populated the “New Releases” tab of your favorite streaming service — Logic’s Everyone, Brother Ali’s All The Beauty In This Whole Life, and Russ’s There’s Really A Wolf — there wasn’t one slouch on the lyrical level. Fans looking for a respite from so-called “mumble rap” should be mollified with all three more-than-serviceable offerings, but the clear winner of the weekend is newcomer Russ. While Ali’s soulful ruminations and Southern Baptist preacher’s intonations will feed your soul, and Logic’s densely-packed, rapid-fire flows will stimulate your mind, Russ does so many things so well that his debut album ensures that you’ll be returning to it more than either of the others — and finding something new every time.
Born Russ Vitale and hailing from Atlanta by way of New Jersey, the long-haired MC, producer, and singer/songwriter set himself apart from underground peers with a ridiculous work ethic and DIY attitude that led him to independently release eight mixtapes between the end of 2011 and the summer of 2014. More impressive still, is that he wrote, produced, recorded, mixed, mastered, and art-directed each project by his lonesome, on his laptop, under his own imprint, Diemon Records. The hard work paid off with a Columbia Records contract in 2016, and his first two singles to chart on the Billboard Top 100, “Losin Control” and “What They Want,” at 63 and 83 respectively. On tapes like Apollo 13 and Color Blind, Russ sharpened the tools that he would use to carve out his place in the rap game: His raspy, hardbody rap flow, and lilting, almost drunken singing voice. He builds on the foundation laid by Drake and capitalized on by Bryson Tiller, 6lack, and PartyNextDoor, but with more polish.
There’s Really A Wolf evokes the story of the boy who cried wolf, a fairy that warns children of the dangers of insincerity. The boy in the story, playing a practical joke, incites panic amongst the townspeople by running in from the forest, crying that there is a wolf on his heels, then laughing at the concern of his fellow citizens. The day soon comes when he really does come across a hungry wolf, but due to having earned a reputation as a trickster, the townspeople ignore his cries for help, and the wolf devours him. Fun story. By evoking the rather depressing moral story, Russ is letting us know a few things.