Wrestling fans will know who the EST is, and what it means, but EST Gee isn’t necessarily an emcee I’d associate with being the best at anything. He’s not the fastest, the strongest, or even the nicest when it comes to rap, but he has something many artists crave. No not money, he’s interesting. Evidently, he’s experienced more in his twenty-nine years than many do in a lifetime, and it is his pain that he can convey through his raps, that is ultimately his best characteristic. The problem with this latest mixtape from Kentucky’s EST Gee is that it leans too often on dated, forgettable concepts.
So what’s actually worthwhile on here? I like the late-night vibes on “DROP TOP”, not just for the musical somberness, but because I can actually understand what’s being said. It’s a bizarre element to praise, given it should be the bare minimum, yet it reveals a likable persona despite the continued boasts as Gee drives around in his proudest purchase, a new Rolls-Royce. The other songs where he’s banging on about his car feel harder to warm to, almost as if he’s rubbing the listener’s nose in it. We get it, you like your expensive vehicle. “IF I STOP NOW” is undeniably catchy, if Autotuned too heavily, masking what must be a rough singing voice. The heavy breathing on the second verse is distracting too – it sounds a lot cleaner on “UNDEFEATED” which is one of the best tracks on offer. It’s your usual aspirational rap and even features an “I’m too big to go like Pun” line which was unexpected. I just wish there was more of this style of song available, and given it’s the most streamed one on Spotify, fans clearly favor this approach.
Some songs lean into territory where it’s difficult to differentiate swagger from laziness, namely “25MIN FREESTYLE” (which isn’t 25 minutes long), so I’m guessing it took that long to write. But then, that goes against the notion of a freestyle, although, of course, many freestyles are indeed heavily prepared. It’s just a bit aimless, and the sleepy delivery, while experimental, isn’t the most pleasant listen.
Every song, as is the style now, is capitalized. I’m not sure who pioneered it, but when I see a playlist now, the songs that are in all caps look a little more desperate for attention. This need for attention emanates off of the singles “THE ONE & ONLY” and “BALL LIKE ME TOO”, which are full of financially focused boasts despite the fact he’s clearly in the same rented Rolls-Royce in both videos. It’s these shortcuts that undo the believability of the claims, and push Gee into the derivative group of rappers primarily concerned with showing off their latest piece of jewellery, without telling the story of how they became rich. It also reminds me of the whole “People who are wealthy and secure in their status, feel no need to advertise it” sentiment, but considering Gee has been shot, nearly went blind, and lost close family members, you can’t argue with someone enjoying money while they can.
Technically, “DROPTOP” confirms that he’s not got the tightest flow, and when he shoehorns in similes it can become cumbersome. “Nobody from my city did it how I did it, I’m the Jay-Z” is admirably optimistic, but bizarre considering Jay’s career is very different in terms of success. Gee has more in common with Lil’ Wayne but lacks the creative writing and charisma that Weezy is famous for, instead falling on predictable formulas too often. “HOTBOYS” with Boosie Badazz is predictably boastful, with a generic production that quickly becomes tiresome. Boosie’s energy is certainly welcome though.
This may read as a highly critical review, and, well it is, but EST Gee isn’t here to drop technically astute rhyme patterns. It’s just a bit of a comedown from his album “I Never Felt Nun”, which offered up a more well-rounded glimpse into the trauma behind the rap star, and when the final song emphasizes that material goods won’t lead to happiness after the previous thirteen songs have argued the opposite, it just feels a bit counterproductive.
This album is still better than I had anticipated, particularly when it embraces its late-night, reflective side. I’d like to see him lean more into that style, and of all the rappers EST reminds me of, it’s the Grime emcee Bugzy Malone. Stick with me, but when EST is coherent with his approach, he is great at injecting his emotions into his lyrics and his delivery, and that’s something Bugzy does well too. It’s no surprise then that the somber instrumentals are on the songs that are most successful, but more time spent allowing the listener in and letting them feel like they are cruising in a Rolls-Royce with him (a la Rick Ross) would have made “MAD” a more rewarding listen. I wanted to like EST Gee, as he shows he’s capable of making some decent songs, but there’s just too much guff, bloat, and wasted bars. The casual observer may dismiss EST Gee as another in the endless stream of rappers blending Drake’s melodic rhymes with Future’s slurred delivery, but there’s a more interesting personality tucked away behind the dated cliches that we simply don’t see enough of. A shame.