Compared to his contemporaries, New York’s Meyhem Lauren has an understated presence that sits somewhere between the laconic effortlessness of Lloyd Banks and the lavish world-building of Roc Marciano, without the memorability of either. You’ll always get a solid project from him, but it’s unlikely he’ll provide an album of the year contender, although 2022’s “Black Vladimir” does threaten to impress more than any of his previous material. Those familiar with Lauren’s brand of opulent, descriptive rap will be aware of his singular tone, but it pairs consistently well with Daringer’s production. The Griselda favorite is known for his plodding, morbid aesthetic with beats dragging their feet over your ears like a zombie wearing Timberlands, but “Black Vladimir” demonstrates numerous examples of versatility.
The fact this album is released via Black Truffle Enterprises gives the uninitiated an idea of what the content is like. “Lavish Vision” is Meyhem Lauren distilled, operating over a menacing Wu-Tang-like instrumental with a straightforward hook, and a blend of self-indulgent black excellence with Mafioso crime narrative. It’s not as creatively bankrupt as some emcees that operate in this space, but Lauren’s style is tidier than most and often complements the beats (which are what elevate this album above his previous material).
Travel is a frequent theme, but is often pushed aside in favor of surface-level dressing decorating aspirational street rhymes. “Airplane Mode” is stuffed with egotistical boasts surrounding wealth, which comes off as cocky without the charm the best braggers possess. “Oversized Luggage” similarly suffers from this, which doesn’t mesh well with the sinister strings Daringer has provided. It reminds me of Roc Marciano’s excellent single “Emeralds”, minus the attitude and stacked rhyme patterns.
Despite my reservations over some of the played-out rap themes, it’s hard not to nod your head to “Top Grain Leather”, “Conflict Resolution” or the Mobb-Deep-in-1996 offspring “Raspberry Crush”. Daringer truly came through on these songs, particularly as they are pacier than many of his familiar material. Those craving the Daringer plod will lap up “Red Pesto”, but the Queens emcee drops one of his better verses here too:
“Anchor medallion, rockin’ kilos on our necks
Far from basic when we flex, rest in peace my n****s ex
We play dice games for gold maple leaves
Watchin’ strippers scrape the floor like they rakin’ leaves
Take a freeze and a bump, tell me I’m the truth
My face is more handsome than it was in my youth
Black Benjamin Button be stuntin’ and somethin’ bouncin’
In the Bentley, while doin’ donuts on South, it Lauren AKA Laurenavici“
There is some Westside Gunn-like inflection emphasized on hooks like “Ridin Dirty” which often leans too far into annoying, but while I understand Gunn has his fans, unfortunately, I frequently struggle with it. It’s like melodic rap where the melody is forced into your ear through sheer repetition. Gunn’s sloppy helium-raps feature on “Trigger Point Therapy”, and Daringer’s beat errs on the side of simple but is addictive enough to maintain the listener’s interest. Once again, Meyhem Lauren ups his verse quality with some slick verbiage, using terms like “tectonic plates” and “street calculus” to great effect. With a bit more of this interesting vocabulary, I find myself more absorbed by the bars on display here and they become more effective at setting the scene, rather than feeling like superfluous imagery.
Similar to fellow emcee turned chef, Action Bronson (who features in the opener “Black Pinot”), Meyhem Lauren has a style that’s not exactly unique, but the way he manipulates the English language is often more interesting than his peers. Daringer has gifted “Black Vladimir” with some replayable production that never feels like it’s trying to replicate a bygone era, instead generating enough menace and craft to counteract the digestible, indulgent lyrics. It’s like hearing rhymes written with a quill on silk sheets, then recorded in the darkest, graffiti-soaked basement. One day, I will tire of hearing outlandish luxury rap over the grim plod of Daringer, but today isn’t that day. In fact, this is the first time in a while that I’ve outright enjoyed this style of hip-hop in a minute, and that’s an achievement in itself.