On her latest release, Big Dreez, Chicago upstart Dreezy threads the needle between delivering on the expectations placed on her by her prior output and subverting them, delivering a breezy album that may fall short of lofty projections from fans but satisfies in its own, sure-footed way. It’s a step in the right direction, at exactly the time the 24-year-old rapper needed it most.
She certainly raised expectations with her 2016 debut No Hard Feelings, enough that when she called out BET for failing to nominate her for a Best Female Rapper award in 2017, her argument was ironclad. Up until its release, the Chicago native had been billed as an adherent to the city’s rugged “drill” style of rap. Built on cacophonous beats and roiling with paranoid aggression, drill had propelled pioneers like Chief Keef, Fredo Santana, King Louie, and Lil Durk into national awareness while racking up lurid headlines and astonishing rap sheets of the criminal variety.
Of the most prominent rappers to burst out of the scene in the early-to-mid 2010s, Dreezy (born Seandrea Sledge) might not have been anyone’s early pick to produce a lasting, flourishing career outside of it. Peers like Sasha Go Hard and Katie Got Bandz received more than their share of attention, while Katie’s breakthrough single with King L (aka Louie), “Pop Out,” generated plenty of attention on its own, garnering something in the way of three million Youtube views. Somewhere along the way, however, Dreezy’s more polished flow, just a step outside the boundaries of drill proper (she was described as “drill-adjacent” in profiles detailing her rise to fame), was enough to garner her a recording contract with Interscope Records.
Dreezy hurdled the first set of expectations to come along with the deal on her 2014 mixtape Schizo. Though the product of a then-20-year-old Chicago youth still finding position in the still-developing world of streaming success, Schizo displayed smarts, emotional vulnerability, and a gift for whip-quick wordplay. The bar was raised again. With No Hard Feelings, she cleared it again, demonstrating even more relatability and branching out into cool, neon-lit R&B while holding her own with the stalwarts of both trap-house rap and sensual bedroom soul (Gucci Mane and Jeremih made appearances, respectively). But the thing about constantly clearing the bar is that it constantly raises, and oing the same thing twice doesn’t impress anyone — especially with a two-year gap to “train” and find a new approach.
With Big Dreez, Dreezy took a step back, gave the expectations placed on her since her breakout with No Hard Feelings a good, hard squint, and decided to hell with them. Instead of doubling down on the well-received facets of her prior work, she pared down the tracklist to a spare ten tracks, foregoing the modern trend of overloading an album to game the stream counters and fabricate a coveted No. 1 debut. It’s unusual but its honorable, and more to the point, it works musically.
Presented once again as the balance between her drill-fed, South Side roots and her polished, well-heeled image courtesy of the aspirations that took her beyond them, the cover displays both versions of Dreezy as equal and separate entities. The music does as well. While “Showin Out,” “Ecstasy,” “Love Someone,” “Cash App,” and “No Love” present the sensitive, emotional side, the remainder of the tracks find Dreezy boasting and brawling with rapid-fire stinging bars. On tracks like “Chanel Slides,” “Where Them $ @,” and “RIP Aretha,” she sounds more confident than ever, even as the beats get feistier and faster to underline the gritty, house party appeal of Orange Jumpsuit Dreezy.
From the sinewy, Southside-produced intro “Chicken Noodle Soup,” the Big Dreez persona flexes and flaunts with knotty rhyme schemes that highlight the two years of growth between projects: “I’m up before the cock-a-doodle-doo / At night I make it rain like chicken noodle soup / Got your n—- jumpin’ through the hula hoops / He gave me top at 2, I told him toodle-loo.” However, Diva Dreez proves just as adept at trading cooing come-ons with Jeremih on the candlelit slow jam, “Ecstasy”: “Can we play, no brakes, lights off, anything goes?” While nothing here is quite as catchy as “Body,” the range on display is bold and impressive.
With the short tracklist, the margin for error is razor thin, but for the most part, she nails it. Personally, I’d have like more melodic songs, but that’s the thing about expectations, isn’t it? You don’t always get what you were looking for, but if you keep an open mind, you just might love what you get.
Big Dreez is out now via Interscope. Get it here.