“I do whatever I want, whenever I want, I love it
People keep talkin, I just keep winnin, I’m just like ‘Fuck it’
They talkin reckless, I don’t believe ’em, I think they bluffin
They just want clout, I’m just so poppin, I’m just like ‘Fuck it'”

I’m a sucker for a good flute sample in a rap song. From Future’s recent hit “Mask Off” to the Jay-Z & UGK collabo’ “Big Pimpin’” down to underground classics like “Off the Books by The Beatnuts featuring Big Pun, they’re all good to me. One thing they all had in common though was not advertising “This is a rap song with a flute sample.” You just listened to it and thought “Oh s–t! That’s crazy dope how the producer flipped that.” Generation Z rapper Russ isn’t trying to disguise it though. His first single off “ZOO” is called “The Flute Song” and features hundreds of women playing the flute simultaneously. Yeah Russ, you got me. I like this s–t.

Here’s some background if you’re new to Russell Vitale. He’s been rapping since he was 18 years old (he’s 25 now), and this is his second studio album since signing with Columbia Records. He’s also part of the rap crew Diemon, which doubles as his own imprint, so hopefully that means he’s keeping a bigger slice of the pie off his album sales given his debut album “There’s Really a Wolf” went platinum. Russ was born in New Jersey but moved constantly due to his father’s job, spending time all throughout the South before finally find a permanent home in Atlanta, Georgia. For what it’s worth he also has heterochromia eyes (two different colors) much like Shouto Todoroki in “My Hero Academia” and Apache in “Bleach.” Anything that makes you stand out in a crowded field of rappers trying to get known is a plus.

What stands out the most about Russ for me is the fact that he’s RAPPING. “No s–t Captain Obvious.” Yeah I know, I feel you, but so many of the Gen Z rappers are really R&B singers in disguse. That makes Mr. Vitale stand out as something of a throwback. He does a little bit of crooning and harmonics here and there, but his true forte is spitting bars, and he’s not bad at it. By the time I got to “Parkstone Drive” with its crazy sample of Sting’s “Shape of My Heart” I was also convinced he wasn’t bad as a storyteller. He doesn’t shy away from getting personal about his background on the beat.

“My parents’ marriage in shambles – I won’t lie, it hurts
I thought money would fix it, but it just made it get worse
See my dad was the man, ’til his job cut ties
He went broke, I got rich, that shit fucked with his pride
Yeah, I recognize it was disturbin to see
The family stopped turnin to him and started turnin to me
Goin through it, I know he tried to hide the pain
If he gave up and got a job, his dad died in vain
Cause his dad ran a business
So my dad tried to run one too but there’s a difference
No income, my dad started loosin his confidence
Meanwhile everyday I got brand new accomplishments
At the height of my career was his lowest
and that’s a lie, cause we both still goin…”

At first I was ready to hand Russ the trophy for “Best Rapper to Go Mainstream Since Whenever” but I must temper my enthusiasm JUST a little bit. First of all I’m not really down with the casual and frequent misogyny he spits on songs. A good example in brief is these four bars from “Keep My Wits”:

“Fuck the rappers who pretend to be amigos
But want to see me finito like Pacino and Carlito
Plus these women want exploitable dick
I can’t let the pussy drive me off avoidable cliffs”

I realize that just makes him par for the course in what is often a misogynistic field, but considering both his writing and delivery are above par, I expect more from him than that and you should too. I’m not going to hold his hand to the stove over it, but I do believe in 2018 we can do better than throwing around tired old cliches. Anyway there’s still a lot to like about Russ on the whole. One thing I appreciate is that he really makes himself the star of his album and makes the one major posse song more special as a result, bringing in Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg for bars on the mellow piano tinged “Last Forever.”

I get a vintage Shawn Carter feel off the instrumental, so maybe they should bring him in for a remix if the song blows up as a single. When Russ does decide to sing a bit, he’s… aight. I think Drake is a fair comparison, in that I feel like neither of them should quit their day job to be a crooner, but on the occasion when they do it I’m not that mad at it.

“ZOO” threw me off at first, because with a short title in ALL CAPS like DOOM I was expecting him to be on some Weezy/Swae Lee/Travis Scott type tip. Mr. Vitale is from their generation but he’s his own man with his own style and casual misogyny aside I can see and appreciate the talent. It feels like he blew up overnight but it’s not entirely undeserved. The only danger for Russ is if he lets it go to his head and stagnates artistically.

Russ :: ZOO
7Overall Score