YoungOne is a sixteen-year-old rapper. Wait, don't stop reading! Not that I blame you: kid hip-hop artists have a reputation for releasing, and let's say this gently because after all they're only children, saccharine and mindless piece of shit albums that exist solely to earn some cash for the teen's more famous relatives. And I think you all know who I'm talking about there. Look, I loved Kris Kross when they first came out…because I was pre-pubescent at the time. Now? I cringe at the memory of such content-free ditties as "I Missed the Bus." Some real deep stuff, that. I think we can all relate, in our own private way, to "missing the bus."
But I will now drop the sarcasm and report to you some terrific news: YoungOne, aka Chris Young, is incredibly gifted. Seriously. From the insightful lyrics he pens to the various ways he utilizes his voice to the unusual but spectacular beats he co-produces, this is one teenager who deserves to be heard. Warm it up Chris, indeed.
The first thing to notice about "Let Me Live" is the deep connection YoungOne feels to his chosen art form. This is an independently released album (alas, one that is most likely damn near impossible to come by), so he and his co-producer Cody Xuereb are free to grab samples from all sorts of fun sources. "The Return of Hip-Hop," an early and very impressive track, traces a deliberately sparse hip-hop history using YoungOne's rapped opinions weaved between the words of Biggie, Tupac, Nas, and Jay-Z. So right away, we see where the bar is with this kid.
But unlike so many other modern rappers, there isn't a bit of arrogance in YoungOne's flow. He's able to rap about poverty without falling into the trap of "I was poorer than you" on "Down To My Last Dime." He's able to comment on the societal ills faced by his community without coming off as a victim. And on "Blastin," he manages the tough task of simultaneously renouncing the gangsta lifestyle while making it clear that he understands the motivations towards it, bragging about "not buyin' a glock." Not to belabor the whole "he's just a kid" motif, but YoungOne respects his elders, even when he disagrees with them.
So let's really see how this kid differs from the Lil' (insert lame rap name here)s of the past. Did Kris Kross ever put out a song asserting that they "ain't goin' nowhere, till my generation don't need no welfare"? YoungOne builds an entire track ("U Betta Recognize") around that optimistic theme, calls 50 Cent "too arrogant," and caps off this victory by using a flow that switches up not only between verses, but between lines. Fast one second, slow the next. All this over a beat that mirrors the schizophrenic spitting, switching musical backgrounds to best enhance the vocals. One of my biggest pet peeves is rap albums where every track sounds, if not the same, at least damn similar. That's no problem here.
That marriage between voice and music is where it all comes together on "Let Me Live." YoungOne and producer Cody Xuereb make up EliteBeatz, the production team handling the soundboards. The beats are, for the most part, insanely good. From the smooth and catchy R&B crooning of "Up Against The Wall" to the drunken turntable stumble of "Ol Skool," these cats almost never miss. Nothing is too polished or perfect, but that adds to the casual nature of YoungOne's verses. Listening to the album, you're like, "Wow, that's a terrific sample…did they just sneak a different chorus in there?!" At least, that's what I was like: surprised and bewildered that acts such as this get passed over in favor of Lil' Romeo, or Medium Romeo, or whatever he's calling himself these days.
Do I even dare mention the missteps? That almost seems a tad nitpicky, but in the interests of honesty: "Memories" is a little corny. "Get Out My Face" has some real lyrical clunkers, and a chorus that sounds like somebody slipped 50 Cent a few Oxycontins and asked him to sing. "Down To My Last Dime" starts with a brainless (and frankly, a little racist) skit. Is there any member of the record buying public who will disagree with me when I say: RAPPERS, STOP WITH THE SKITS. YOU ARE RAPPERS, NOT DAVE CHAPELLE. Even the sketches on Biggie's albums were terrible. It's a loss all around.
Those weak moments aside, "Let Me Live" is a revelation. A flow both unique and mature, beats that would make Missy Elliot sit up and take notice, and a subject matter that it's almost hard to believe is coming from someone who's only been on the planet for 16 years, and in the hip-hop scene for far less. Let's all go get our copies of "Totally Krossed Out," burn them, and forever replace their memories with the fresher stylings of YoungOne. I'd say he deserves to be famous, but record execs would probably make him write songs about crushes and how he likes candy. This kid is already light years beyond that.
Music Vibes: 9 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: August 30, 2005