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For the past year and a half, New Jersey rapper Coi Leray has faced scrutiny. After her 2020 song “No More Parties” became a staple of both playlists and radio, rap fans wondered where she came from. That scrutiny intensified when she was selected as one of XXL’s 11 Freshmen for 2021. Some of the skepticism was warranted; some wasn’t. While fans’ attention focused on Coi’s physique and colorful, unique bearing, her performances on both the moody, melodic “No More Parties” and her unusual XXL Freshman freestyle left many fans questioning what was once the only thing that mattered in hip-hop: “Can she really even rap?”
On her debut album, Trendsetter, she doesn’t exactly look to put that speculation to rest. Instead of proving that she can rap, she focuses on proving that she can do nearly everything else. Across the album’s 20 tracks, which include the “No More Parties” remix featuring Lil Durk as well as follow-up hits like “Twinnem” and “Blick Blick” with Nicki Minaj, she admirably accomplishes this mission. An expression of her exuberant personality and her eclecticism, Trendsetter should show that Coi Leray isn’t just a fly-by-night one-hit-wonder.
It’s hard to blame rap fans for their skepticism — and their ignorance. After all, Coi, who’d been releasing mixtapes since 2018, seemingly popped up out of nowhere with the success of “No More Parties.” Rap fans are often skeptical of overnight success stories, especially when they seem to be beneficiaries of industry nepotism. You see, Coi’s father is Boston impresario Benzino, former co-owner of The Source magazine, who used to rap in groups like the Almighty RSO and Made Men before joining the cast of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. While Coi’s had viral hits like “Huddy” in 2018, the first time many folks ever heard of her was on “No More Parties.”
Coi already demonstrated a solid grasp of different deliveries on her mixtapes Everythingcoz and EC2. Still, Trendsetter in many ways represents her first opportunity to prove naysayers wrong. To that end, she shows her bite on tricks like “Thief In The Night” with G Herbo and “Box & Papers,” on which she directly addresses the attention she’s received lately. “They be like / How you do that there?’ / They ask me, ‘Baby, how you so viral? I see you everywhere,'” she snaps with the pointed delivery of someone fed up with the ongoing inquisition.
She also displays surprising vulnerability on songs like “Anxiety,” “Clingy,” and “Paranoid.” Diagnosed with ADHD, she’s open about her struggles with mental health. These more introspective songs are marked shifts in tone away from the seemingly upbeat singles she’s released so far, but scratch the surface, and it’s clear that she’s been speaking these truths all along. “Anxiety” is a microcosm; couching serious subject matter in bubbly production can sometimes obscure the content. But with Trendsetter‘s more therapeutic tracks, Coi makes the subjects plain — which, in turn, makes it harder to criticize her for being a surface-level mumble rapper, as she has been.
She even dabbles in Afrobeats on “Aye Yai Yai,” an endeavor that comes early enough on the project to throw listeners who only know her from her more effervescent songs. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your point of view. However, I think I agree with Nicki Minaj, who both praised and critiqued her host’s album. The sequencing is the album’s weak point, as is its length and sometimes scattershot approach. But that’s a minor quibble and when Coi inevitably figures out how to present her ideas more cohesively, whether that means sharper edits or more focused storytelling, she’s shown she has the versatility to manage it.
Trendsetter is out now on Uptown Records. Get it here.