For years, the pervading stereotype of rap and rappers was of brash, boisterous, in-your-face types who talked loud, talked fast, and overwhelmed with their physical presence, even when they weren’t physically all that imposing. Think Tupac, DMX, Ja Rule — loud guys who let you know who they are as soon as they walked in the room or started to rhyme. Lately, though, it’s felt hip-hop has begun to go in the other direction; while still forceful, guys like Chance The Rapper, Drake, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar have lent themselves more toward expressive deliveries that draw listeners in through emphatic flows that make them sound relatable rather than intimidating.
However, there’s always been the third way as well. By its nature, it’s flown somewhat under the radar, but with a new crop of rappers adopting this alternative style, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes recognized as the de facto default rap style. It’s the coolly elegant, aspirational, laid-back style adopted by practitioners like Slick Rick and Snoop Dogg. Lately, rappers like 21 Savage have begun to take it in more of a deadpan, menacing direction. But Chicago’s Valee, the latest signee to Kanye West’s GOOD Music imprint courtesy of Pusha T, is taking it in a new direction, marrying the casual opulence of label boss Pusha with the sleepy flow most often associated with so-called Soundcloud rappers to create a surprisingly engaging combination that has been turning heads all year.
Valee Taylor, 30 years old and hailing from the windy city, decided to start rapping on a whim — detouring to Guitar Center on the way to pick up a new video game console — on the belief that he could create better beats than the ones he was hearing on the radio. While there, he picked up a mic as well, within months, he’d become a local sensation thanks to his single “Shell,” a slow-burning proto-trap banger that featured Valee’s soft-spoken, devil-may-care luxury flexes over a wildly incongruous yet somehow complementary, self-produced beat full of window-rattling 808 and hopscotch snares.
“Shell” quickly became emblematic of Valee’s approach. Rather than employing basic 4/4 rhyme schemes and trying to impress on songs like “I Got Whatever” and “VLONE,” his conversational tone feels like he’s merely reading off a shopping list of the designer goods he’s recently copped. His proclivity for penning imaginative bars to shoehorn hypebeast references into is reminiscent of Pusha T, his label head, but his delivery is almost the exact opposite of Pusha’s passionate, pastor-in-the-pulpit verbal flame. Valee sounds almost bored by the borderline excessive levels of drip he spends most of his songs reeling off.
When the pair combined for “Miami,” it signaled an impending shift in Valee’s independent status. Repackaging six of his most beloved singles into his official GOOD Music debut EP, GOOD Job, You Found Me, Valee brought his local celebrity status to a higher level with a low-risk, high reward gamble, testing if the songs could scale up for a wider audience.
So far, it seems to be working; his Youtube videos for all of the songs but one, “Juice & Gin,” have crossed the million views mark. His newest singles “About U” and “Hmmm” feature fellow genre benders Dram and Lil Yachty, whose profiles have also risen significantly in the last year. Valee’s unconventional approach has already begun to pay dividends — and with a new album presumably on the way, 2019 just might belong to the rapper with the quietest voice in the game.