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Teenage rebellion has long been considered part and parcel of the hip-hop package and perhaps no modern rapper exemplifies this like $NOT. Emerging from Florida’s SoundCloud rap scene in 2018 with the pulverizing “Gosha,” the 24-year-old rapper could have been described as “teenage rebellion” personified. But what happens when teenage rebels grow up? $NOT shows glimpses on his new album, Ethereal, but he isn’t quite ready to leave his punk-rap roots completely behind.
Born in New York, but raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, $NOT bears every hallmark of the scene’s flourishing heyday. Like many other members of the Florida rap community, many of his more popular songs feature tortured, distorted bass, screaming, thrash-inspired vocals. He even has a signature look: A light hoodie pulled tight around his face that he’s rarely seen without – much like Ski Mask The Slump God’s durag or the mask of MF DOOM.
But he’s also always been something of an outsider to that culture as well. While he’s been largely defined by the accouterments of the scream-rap style, he’s also shown a more tender side. For instance, on “Revenge” from his debut album Beautiful Havoc, he dabbles in more melodic production, with mellow acoustic guitars and a singsong vocal delivery. And on Ethereal, he pursues these instincts much more enthusiastically, on introspective cuts like “Blue Moon” and “5AM,” which he calls his favorite song from the album on a Zoom call with Uproxx ahead of its release.
“I’m just like, ‘Yo, let me use my sound but let me add a little spice to it,’” he says of the departure. “It’s just one of those songs that hit different when it’s slow, but it’s still crazy when it’s fast, when it’s normal. When I recorded it, I didn’t have a thought process or anything. I just did what I wanted to do on it.” He does confess that the sharp left turn could alienate some of his day-one fans, but he also accepts that as part of the bargain when it comes to expanding his sound and doing what he wants.
“I don’t know if the fans will receive it well,” he admits. “That’s how it always is. Those are really experimental to me. ‘5 AM,’ that’s really experimental to my sound. It’s still true to my sound, but it’s like… it’s in my world but it’s in a different universe.” $NOT accepts that the perception of him as an artist doesn’t necessarily jive with the musical output he’s released so far. Part of that is down to the viral videos of his raucous performances, which he uses to grow his legend by reworking even his more mellow material to suit the live format.
“Even my name sounds crazy – like me in a mosh pit, it fits the name and everything,” he says. “But if you listen to the music, it’s very calm like chill. That’s how I am. But when I perform, I try to rage with those songs too. It’s kind of crazy, I’ll be trying to get the crowd to open a mosh pit for the saddest song.” That reputation for turning up has made him one of the more exciting talents, but he’s learning that his recklessness can have as many negative effects as positive ones.
Case in point, lead single “Doja” featuring ASAP Rocky. The song is a classic slice of that anti-establishment formula, fitting right into the skate-punk rap aesthetic that Rocky and ASAP Mob cultivated in the early 2010s. $NOT admits that the song’s title is a double entendre, and could refer to either the rapper Doja Cat or the slang term for weed, but in his verse, he mentions her by name. “I’ll f*ck a b*tch named Doja Cat,” he gibes, gloating in that exaggerated way common to hip-hop. However, a mistranslation on lyrics sites brought the song to the attention of the actual Doja Cat, who shot back, “You f*cked who?” on Twitter. After she deleted the reply, $NOT himself clarified that the lyric was misconstrued but by then, the damage had been done – or the song’s attention-grabbing purpose was served, depending on how you look at it.
“When all that shit was happening, I didn’t care,” he admits. “I was like, ‘Whatever. If this is going to bring more shit to the song, go ahead. It’s working.’ Some people thought it was a diss track towards Doja, but I’m like, ‘I got no animosity towards Doja.’ She looks good and I didn’t really think much about it, and plus, I needed some shit to rhyme with. So I’m saying ‘scat, pack, Doja Cat.’ It ain’t nothing too deep about it. They just think I’m trying to degrade women and all that, but I don’t know, it’s rap. I’m just being real grimy.”
Ironically, for such a reckless rapper, one who admittedly doesn’t put much thought into lyrics or even his album’s title (“I thought it was a cool word,” he explains. “It was a tattoo on a girl’s neck”), he’s already got his retirement plan figured out. When asked what he wants to have accomplished by next year, he says, “I’ll be like, ‘Yo, I own a gas station, bro. Come get this gas, it’s the cheapest gas out here, $1 a gallon.’” It’s hard to tell if he’s joking. The music on Ethereal is the same way; it could be deadly serious or totally frivolous, but it’s always captivating.
Ethereal is out now via 300 Entertainment. You can stream it here.
SNOT is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.