The 2010’s feel like the decade where rappers decided to troll us by having the most ridiculous names imaginable. That’s to not say there was no such thing as a bad nom de plume for emcees before. Red Hot Lover Tone was a ridiculous name, but he was renowned for his production as one half of the Trackmasters, where he wisely shortened his name to just Tone. You’d have to have a good sense of humor to call yourself Fat Pat (R.I.P.) but he’s an underground Texas legend. There was once a rap group called the Porn Theatre Ushers, which may or may NOT be worse than the fact that individually they were known as Nabo Rawk and Mister Jason. Still all of these artists surpassed the seeming absurdity of their names and went on success in hip-hop, proving that there’s no such thing as a bad moniker as long as people are talking about you.
When preparing for this review though I had a VERY hard time getting over the name Yung Gravy. It’s a decades old tradition for rappers to call themselves Lil’ or Young as their first name, with there now being hundreds upon hundreds of each in the span of rap music’s history. There are in fact so many that some have even taken to replacing the vowels in their names with consonants just to differentiate themselves, which is why we have so many YVNG rappers these days. When I looked through his list of albums and mixtapes though I thought there was no way this wasn’t a prank. Tell me you wouldn’t think so if you didn’t know anything else besides the fact someone named Yung Gravy released an album called “Thanksgiving’s Eve“. Then you read the names of some of the “featured artists” and you see names like Lil Mayo and Ihatesunday. Surely he must be a parody of rap and his friends are part of the joke. He’s real folks. He’s as real as the gravy you pour turkey and mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.
He’s real, but I still can’t tell if I’m supposed to take him seriously. His real name is Matthew Hauri and he hails from Rochester, Minnesota. Neither of those things disqualify him from being a rap star — after all one of the best rap groups of all time hails from Minneapolis, Minnesota. There’s something about Yung Gravy that feels like listening to a mixture of Filthy Frank, Lil B the Based God and The Lonely Island rapping. Right from the opening track “Gravy For Pope” everything sounds like a Key & Peele skit sending up the excesses of rapper swagger.
“Gravy got the drip they call me Mr. Hydration
B***h I do not play and you look like a PlayStation
I ain’t religious but I got b***hes; how come your bitch is all in my bid’ness?
I might just mu’f**kin fold and f**k on that bitch cause I’m vicious, ay
B***h I’m vicious, homie hittin switches
I was born on Christmas, yo’ b***h is
always yellin ‘Gravy For Pope’
Got the strap with the scope…”
The track is hard to ignore though — in fact it’s pretty dope to hear an operatic singer blended with such hard beats. I don’t know “Jason Rich on the beat” but he’s equally hard to bypass on “Buttered Up”, which further seeks to give Gravy credibility by jamming to some old soul layered up nicely AND bringing in Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia fame as a guest. Speaking of “old soul” Mia Gladstone sounds like a 2019 update of Erykah Badu on “Charlene” and leaves me thinking that despite the seeming absurdity of his name and his swag that Yung Gravy really IS serious about good music.
Gravy even sounds somewhat sincere with the sentiment “I ain’t really tryin to have babies/but mama if you have a couple babies it’s okay with me”. Still I’m constantly torn on “Sensational” as to whether or not I’m supposed to take Gravy seriously. Some of his rhymes aren’t just basic — they’re plain awful. “I’m like open sesame/now yo’ b****h right next to me” quips Mr. Hauri on “Magic”. Casual misogyny aside that’s not a braggadocious line that even makes SENSE if the song isn’t called “Magic”. You shouldn’t need the title of your track for your bars to make sense.
I’m not trying to be overly hard on the young holiday sauce, but Mr. Gravy’s flow often seems stilted and unnatural. Even on the songs where he seems to be getting into the groove he just comes off like he’s imitating his guest stars, which is the position Lil Baby is put in for “Alley Oop”.
There are a lot of reasons it’s hard to be an enthusiastic fan of Yung Gravy aside from his rap moniker. His casual sexism, his awkward delivery, the fact I can’t tell whether he’s mocking rap music or celebrating it half of the time… and yet “Sensational” is not a BAD album. Parody often benefits from imitating something so good that even mocking it winds up sounding good, so even if Gravy is a farce he’s accidentally dope on tracks like “Pizzazz” and “Richard Simmons” thanks to Jason Rich’s production. I can’t prove the following statement in any way but I have a theory — Matthew Hauri created the Yung Gravy persona as a joke for his friends, it unexpectedly blew up and went viral on him, and then he had to make a career of it. As such I can say this much for Mr. Gravy — he’s got the good sense to have good beats and work with recognizable guest stars. The joke’s on me then. Yung Gravy is not a great rapper but he’s not TERRIBLE either. He’s okay. Given how far standards have dropped in recent years “okay” isn’t all bad.