A running theory in rap fan circles is that there are three main kinds of artists within the genre: Album artists, features artists, and singles artists. It’s a pretty self-explanatory system. Some rappers shine best when their work is consumed as a whole, with overarching concepts and few stand out, radio-friendly songs. Some are at their best on singles and their albums are typically collections of singles or potential singles which work most effectively consumed piecemeal, in isolation. Then there are features artists, who may not stand out much on their own songs, but when they appear on other artists’ works, they usually steal the show.
Nailing down where New York rapper Rich The Kid falls in this system is a hazy, borderline impossible task. Despite having one of the biggest singles of the past few years of music streaming in “Plug Walk,” he doesn’t seem especially good at putting out bangers that pack dance floors or take over the airwaves. He’s featured on one of Tyga’s indelibly fun comeback singles, “Girls Have Fun,” but he arguably gets out-rapped by Tyga and definitely has trouble staying on beat.
That would seem to leave “albums artist” as his default characterization, but taking his latest full-length project, The World Is Yours 2, as evidence, it’s hard to see how that could be the case either, when the voices that define the album come mostly from Rich’s guests and not himself. It’s good in the sense that it’s listenable, with some genuinely enjoyable, lightweight songs about flexing and trapping and having a lot of sex, but you could probably take him off and never notice the difference. The beats slap and the guests add a tremendous amount of value, but Rich gets outshone by both. You hate to see it.
One of the reasons he seems so dispensable is that his style is so undefined. He’s from New York, but he raps in a weird, faux-Southern accent that sounds derived from Young Thug’s own slippery, consonant-free delivery. Then, on other tracks, he sounds very much like he’s from LA, trading in his languid syllables and cottonmouth warbling for clipped, syncopated cadences that do their best to land on the downbeat. He sounds like he’s doing rap impressions, which is fine in an impressionist, but not in a rapper.
The effect is bewildering when he’s placed alongside the originators of his interchangeable styles. When Young Thug comes in on the trap-ish “Fall Threw,” he instantly and utterly overshadows Rich’s generic boasts with his outlandish ones, rhyming “I got the crockpot / I’m smokin’ like magma” to cap his short leadoff verse. Insult is added to injury when the original Young Thug apprentice, Gunna, comes in after him and shows how much cleaner the same flow can sound in the hands of an expert. The beat is a hypnotic banger provided by Wheezy, but it’s more a Thug and Gunna song than a Rich song, leaving him a guest on his own album.
That LA flow he duplicates doesn’t fare any better. On lead single “Splashin,” he trips and stumbles to catch the beat, but always seem too hurried or too lazy, never quite finding the pocket that best works with the bass-heavy, west coast production provided by Frank Dukes and TheLabCook. The same could be said of just about any track he tries to ride solo, from “4 Phones” to “Save That” to “Racks Out.” Even so, Rich’s inefficient delivery could be deemed almost charming if the subject matter — and the way he raps about it — weren’t so uncompelling. All these songs will likely disappear from rotation by summer, but until then, they’ll go up at the club or house party.
His guests consistently outshine him throughout the album to a frustrating degree. Even when they indulge in the same sort of extravagant gloating, their wordplay and on-point delivery make them stand out. On Nard & B’s buoyant beat for “Like Mike,” Rich’s own artist Jay Critch demonstrates a better grasp of rhythm than Rich does, while guest rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie shows him up on wordplay with just his introductory bars: “We ain’t into the ho talk / Turn a n—- whole afro to a mohawk.” That’s a visual that sticks, unlike the Kid’s super elementary “You n—-s is softer than cotton.” No one needs him to be the best lyricist ever — in fact, for the style, simpler is better — but there is such a thing as too simple and this gets dangerously close.
Elsewhere, Big Sean drops off one of the best verses of his career, effortlessly tossing off a face scruncher of a performance, concluding with a nasty quatrain: “I go off, go in, go up, but never go back / I know we in a league of our own, b*tch, I’m pro-Black / Just hit a lick for my grandsons and I don’t have sons / But that’s how far I’m thinking ahead, b*tch, and some.” We really need a new Big Sean album, pronto. This song works just as well as a Big Sean single featuring Rich and Offset.
Meanwhile, there’s so little subject variation here that despite some pleasant, summery production work — the flutes on “Splashin” and “Save That” come to mind here — all the songs start to blur together. There’s no real storytelling, introspection, or reflection to give life to Rich’s rhymes and engage listeners on any more than a basic, head-bopping in the club level. There are just stale punchlines about Rich’s riches, the spoils thereof, and pussy, which is by turns “clean, “on fleek,” or, of course, wet. The one song that seems to break the cycle is the Miguel and Ty Dolla Sign feature, “Whoa” — which Rich is barely even on and which sounds like it belongs on a completely different album.
Speaking of stale lines: We need an indefinite, rap-wide moratorium on all rhymes comparing money stacks to Yao Ming, which rich does on “Racks Today.” Yao Ming hasn’t played in the NBA for eight years. That’s eight draft classes worth of other tall dudes to compare your money stacks to, rappers. It’s lame, lazy bar work, and it shows when you’re just kind of phoning it in and repeating stuff that you’ve heard other rappers say over the years. Rich is 26; Yao missed more games than he played from 2005-2011, meaning Rich was like 12 when Yao was last able to play a full season. I have to call shenanigans.
But that’s what you get with Rich the Kid, a hit rapper without many hits of his own (without guest stars on them), a guest star that rarely improves the songs he’s on, and an album rapper who puts together good collections that he may as well not be on. Being incidental to your own album is a dubious claim to fame, but Rich is like a new category of rapper all his own — let’s call it the “middle manager artist.” Let everyone else do all the work, while you rack up all the credit in the form of name recognition, press, and sales. It’s good work if you can get it.
The World Is Yours 2 is out now via Interscope Records. Get it here.