Music

Why Mario Judah Might Hijack Playboi Carti’s Album Buzz For His Own Breakout Moment

Ever since rappers started wearing heavy metal bands’ tour T-shirts, it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to finally bring the two genres back together. That someone has arrived and his name is Mario Judah. Born in 1999 and cutting an imposing, bulky figure, Judah hails from Atlanta — just like many of hip-hop’s most innovative genre-benders — and saw his profile rise significantly after the release of his song “Die Very Rough” — just four months after releasing his first song “Crush.” Now he’s receiving name-checks from some of hip-hop’s most influential figures including happy-go-lucky rapper Father, go-to video director Cole Bennett, and weird Twitter pioneer turned stand-up comic and part-time MC, Zack Fox.

With just those two songs, though, Judah perfectly embodied the platonic ideal of a rapper who does metal… or maybe a metal singer who somehow found his way to rap via the melodic, scene-inspired work of Juice WRLD and Trippie Redd. In the video for “Crush,” Judah, a husky giant with Fuschia hair, raccoon eye makeup, and a Tupac T-shirt, threatens to “crush all of my enemies” over a buzzing guitar riff with thundering 808s straight out of the gothic trap pioneered by Metro Boomin and Southside. The drums are the key to the thing, I think; where previous attempts to fuse the dark instincts of metal probably overly focused on incorporating DJ scratches and corny backward cap-wearing lead singers to the mix, Judah understands that the driver of hip-hop is the rhythm.

And what a rhythm it is. It’s trap, to be sure, but it’s also just similar enough to the backlines of bands like Pantera (a Mario Judah inspiration) that it could pass as a reasonable facsimile of the sound with the right tempo adjustments. Judah sings with a throaty vibrato straight from his bowels, with just enough grit to evoke the “I’m possessed” disposition of its influences. The video is full of the horrorshow imagery that permeates the metal world as well; bloody skulls, plague masks, and a menacing Joker mask worn by an eerily posing figure brandishing a knife a la The Strangers make everything suitably creepy. The video has racked up nearly 800,000 views to date, but it was its follow-up that helped bring Judah to his current level of notoriety.

“Die Very Rough” has over 10 million views on YouTube since September — and continues racking them up by the thousands every day. This one is again a threatening display of murderous intent, with Genius contributors describing it as “a marvel of medieval rap” and comparing his flow to a Disney villain’s showstopping theme song. It’s an accurate summation of his approach: Throw Scar from The Lion King into a blender with Slipknot (substitute with Avenged Sevenfold if no Slipknot is available), throw in TM88’s drum kit along with a half-gallon of lean, and hit puree. Lyrically, Judah compares himself to a big dog and a lion, while the listener is “the prey that is hiding.” Finding the bridge point between the two poles — the hyperviolent bravado that marks their typical subject matter — and incorporating the most fun parts of each allows Judah to reside in a tenuous harmony directly in the middle. Whether or not he can keep it up for a full project is anyone’s guess, but we’ll soon have a chance to find out.

The project, according to Judah’s recent run of increasingly obstreperous promotional tweets, is to be titled Whole Lotta Red. But wait, isn’t that the title of the long-awaited Playboi Carti follow-up to 2018’s Die Lit that was supposed to have released this year? Yes. Yes, it is. That’s the genius. By tying his release to a higher-profile one impatient fans have kept near the top of social trends, Judah outs himself as a disciple of Young Thug’s eye-and-ear-grabbing promotional ethics. In 2016, Thugger trolled Lil Wayne with the title of his debut commercial mixtape, Barter 6, after Wayne repeatedly delayed the fifth installment of his Tha Carter album series. Capitalizing on the vacuum created by the album’s absence, Thug was able to supplant Weezy atop fans’ wish lists and assert himself as rap’s hot new star.

Judah’s employed the same strategy, threatening to drop Carti’s album himself after assigning a deadline of December 6. While he didn’t release a full project, he did share “Bih Yah,” his third standalone single which departed from his own established style by hijacking Carti’s signature squeaky-voiced, non-sequitur-spewing flow over a beat that could make a gamer prepare for a boss fight. He accompanied the track with yet another ultimatum: Either Carti puts out Whole Lotta Red on December 11 or Judah will. Since it seems unlikely the major label-constrained Carti will be able to meet his demands, Mario Judah just might get exactly what he wants: a cadre of ravenous fans eagerly awaiting his appearance on the proverbial Wrestlemania ramp. Bah Gawd, that’s Judah’s music, and this rap-rock disruptor has designs on taking over the game — even if he has to go through his own heroes to do it.

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