If you say the words “I got hoes in Atlanta” you already know we’re talking about Desiigner. For large parts of 2015 and 2016 you couldn’t turn on your radio without hearing his hit single “Panda”, you couldn’t go a sporting event without the song being played during the pre-game, and you couldn’t search for hip-hop on YouTube without his video being recommended to you. “Panda” was more than just viral – it was Wuhan coronavirus. If you contracted “Panda” you were doomed to hear it over and over again in your head even when you avoided all forms of media. It was that infectious.
At some point recently I asked myself the question “Whatever happened to Desiigner?” Apparently his relationship with Kanye West faded, his deal with G.O.O.D. Music dissolved, and as of the writing of this review he’s now independent and unsigned. One interpretation would be that he was a flash in the pan and his career is already over. Another would be that he was creatively stifled by a major label situation and is set to reinvent himself for a new decade with his freedom back. To get a better idea of which direction he may be headed let’s take a look at his “L.O.D.” release under G.O.O.D.
“Tonka” was the obvious choice to follow up on the viral “Panda”, but a quick check of the total views of both videos shows 3.5 million for the former and 359 million for the latter, meaning the track (produced by DJ Relly Rell, 16yrold and Dean) captured only 1% of his previous audience by this one metric alone. The bass bottom is fairly solid for half of the song, then mysteriously drops out altogether as Desiigner repeats “I’m not getting married again” for unknown reasons. Eventually the bass comes back. “I overdose and then crash, blast, I did some things in the past” explains D, which may be why he can only drive a Tonka now. The song — if we can call it that — feels like a series of non-sequitur thoughts loosely tied together by the refrain “I told shorty calm it down” and anything that rhymes with it.
If you weren’t already familiar with Desiigner from either of these two songs, it doesn’t take long on “L.O.D.” to realize that his flow is precisely the opposite of one. He spits two to three words at a time, makes a sound effect, repeats a phrase, then spits a few more, then changes up the order of all of those things while not changing up the verbiage. Songs like “After Party” are literally their title. No — that doesn’t mean it’s about an after party, it means the two words you hear most often are “after” and “party” and any words that sound close to them. You may not want to ever hear about “afters” or “parties” ever again by the time this song is done.
For the moment let’s err on the side of creativity and say that the Brooklyn rapper born Sidney Selby III was trying to push the boundaries of what a rap song could and should be. The problem is that if you want to give him his due for a new style, he should be doing something interesting WITH that style. His rhymes on songs like “HOOD” are so simplistic that you quickly lose interest. “I don’t recycle/and I am a psycho/take a plane to China/to go test the rifle”. It’s as though someone handed him a book titled “short words that rhyme” and he not only memorized it but decided it was all he would need for the rest of his life.
Despite the unbearably awful rap, the track actually bops my head thanks to the Dean, Willie P and JSDG beat. That made me realize something about “Panda” in general and Desiigner in general. “Panda” came along at the perfect time when there was a vacancy in pop culture to be filled, and the mysterious mumbled flow and repeated “Panda, Panda, Panda” refrain over that infectious beat turned a vacancy into a SUPER NO VACANCY. There was no longer room for anything else, not even Desiigner himself. “L.O.D.” does have some listenable tunes like “LA to NY”, but the moment you can actually understand what D is saying, you realize he doesn’t have much to say. I couldn’t agree less with Kanye West on just about everything he says or does these days, but on cutting Desiigner loose he gets a free pass. If 2020 is the year Mr. Selby reinvents himself, he’ll have to start by figuring out how not to repeat himself at least twice every four bars.