Drake once scored a hit with the phrase “started from the bottom now we here.” Ever wondered what the inverse of that would be? Let me introduce you to Calboy. He started at the literal top when his song “Envy Me” went viral and was ultimately certified four times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (or RIAA for short). That song’s success led him to a major label deal with Polo Grounds Music (distributed by RCA Records) and life was looking pretty sweet for the young Chicagoan drill rapper. Nearly a quarter billion views later “Envy Me” is still making money for Calboy even today.
Instead of starting at the bottom and heading to dizzying heights, Calboy started at the peak of the mountain and had no higher plateau to reach. I’m sure he and the people who signed him just assumed he would stay on top, but we all know that’s not how the fickle whims of viral popularity work. You can hit it big one time and never touch that ever again. If you’re really lucky or really good you can do it more than once and build an audience. Calboy was not lucky. His debut album peaked at No. 30 on Billboard. His second album “Long Live the Kings” peaked at No. 136. His last album “Black Heart” didn’t even chart at all. Zero commercial presence. None.
I’d love to tell you that the audience gave up on Calboy too quickly and that the public is just too fickle about chasing whoever is that new hotness. I’d love to do that. It wouldn’t be true, but I’d love to do it. When an artist is truly terrible, I don’t feel any remorse about dumping on the quality of their music. When Calboy makes mediocre AutoTune music like “Dope Boy” though, I can’t even hate him or the track that much. The fact his style and topic matter aren’t original neither hurts nor helps him. All you get from listening to it is that same same you can hear from any Soundcloud rapper of the last decade. He’s better than some, not as good as others, and even when he says he’s “Wild Wild” he’s really just “mild mild.”
When you hear the tag “Oh lord! JetsonMade another one,” that’s the best moment of the song. There’s so little to love or hate here that the professional beat maestro, the hired gun of the proceedings, steals the show from Calboy with one drop. Fellow Chicago drill artist G Herbo unintentionally does the same thing with “Purpose.” The production on this one feels a bit awkward and off key, but having a better emcee on the track gives you a reason to keep listening to it.
In fact the exact same thing happens with “Givenchy Kicks” featuring Lil Baby and Lil Tjay.
It’s not hard to see why Calboy plummeted after such an epic start in the music game. He had no time to build an audience from the ground up, refine his style over time, and progress to making something that was either different from or more personal than similar artists in the field. He may also have been a victim of bad timing given the global pandemic shifted the focus off of him right at the time he could have come back huge, but “Long Live the Kings” didn’t help matters by allowing his guests and producers to completely overshadow him. There’s one bit of good news though — when you start at the top and hit bottom instead of vice versa, the redemption story can be even more interesting. Let’s see how Calboy does for the rest of this decade.