UrbanDictionary.comdefines ‘to hustle’ as to make money however one can, often in an illegal way. During a recession, though, the shady connotation assigned to ‘hustling’ seems to evaporate. Since the advent of the Great Recession, a lot of people are hustling, and not by selling drugs or pawning hot jewelry, but by doing whatever they can to find a job or keep a job, by walking away from their mortgage and beginning to rent, or by cutting off their wireless and getting internet at a local library.
The Chicago-based up-and-comer, Young General, is hustling for sure, but he doesn’t front as a drug dealer or pimp. On the approrpiately-titled “Hip-Hop 4 Adults, Volume 1,” Young G is hustling like so many others: he’s trying to make it while toeing the line between working class and middle class. As G states on the Nicki Minaj-sampling “Moment for Life,” “I’ve been at the register while ya’ll been in the kitchen . . . . No need for baking soda.” Make no mistake, it’s all about the Benjamins for YG, but in a not-so-different way that it is for the rest of us just trying to live comfortably in these trying times.
Indeed, as Kanye’s “College Dropout” was in part so refreshing because it honestly addressed ‘Ye’s striving to survive as part of the still-emergent Black middle class, “Volume 1” succeeds because it approaches Young’s economic and personal circumstance so candidly. “If you getting right, that depends upon what lane you in/If you from the Chi, that depends on what game you in,” speculates General over a crawling organ on the album’s cocky but melancholy opener, “Lyrical Gymnasium.” It’s this mix of eager swagger and cautious optimism that makes the mixtape both individualized and universal.
The genuineness of this Chicago MC rapper’s approach allows him to indulge in the contrasting mythologies of the rapper whose made it and the rapper who hasn’t. On “Christmas In Harlem,” again over soulfully-downbeat synth, he is at his most empathic: “When you’re running out of rope hanging yourself/how long can you handle being broke?/When you riding through the city watching homies getting paid/Get caught up in your dream, just making minimum wage . . . . What I’m trying to achieve is money to maintain.”
General also does plenty of bragging about fame. On the stand-out track “Impromptu,” over building violin, he gloats “I’m unbelievable, I’m unforgettable/Leg room in the car like I’m sitting in the exit row,” before cleverly joking about his weed-buying cell phone app. Even the very occasional throw-away rhyme (“I got groupies with boobies”) is forgivable, as General consistently imbues his words with such a sense of personal desire, one can’t help but feel him. The listener gets the sense that General is, in fact, neither rich nor poor, but he raps from each of these perspectives because, like many of us, he desperately hopes life will lead him towards wealth but is scared that, at any time, he could take a turn towards poverty.
The production, largely provided by the ever-talented Chi Town beatsmiths Hannibal King, Juice, and The Letter L, takes a backseat to Young General’s lyricism. This observation is by no means to meant criticize the beats, but more to say that the production thrives in its understatedness.
The production shows a mastery of post-Kanye R&B vibes. “Devil’s Advocate” effectively samples vocals from Shirely Caesar’s “Satan, You’re a Liar,” over high-pitched guitar and face-paced snare. The powering vocals backing “Snow Night,” are remarkably not sampled, but the work of soul-punk singer Ashley Good of the talented rap duo Gatz-N-Goods. On another standout, “Saturday Night,” a flute over light-drums intermittently interrupted by heavier strings sets the right backdrop for our feature’s introspective swag.
Tellingly, Young General released “Mixtape 4 Adults, Volume 1” on his website YoungGeneral.com for free. General did this largely, of course, to spread his name, but part of him may have also realized that he can try to make it in these trying times without depleting the hard-earned cash flow of those just looking for a good tune.