As more and more big-name artists search out verses from people like Fivio Foreign to add a touch of the ascendant New York drill sound to their own projects, the genre’s new de facto leader in the wake of the tragic death of Pop Smoke sees fit to drop his debut studio album. After catapulting himself to an even higher level of public consciousness with last year’s most impressive feature verse on Kanye West’s Donda, West himself even signed on to executive produce. Many have already offered some valid criticisms of the project in that it distills the pure, raw and sometimes gleefully depraved excitement of New York drill into something a lot more palatable for the parents who might find it on a radio dial as the genre’s marketability continues to grow. While the specific brand of bass and Fivio’s spastic flows still sporadically succeed at quickening the pulse at times here, B.I.B.L.E. is loaded with uneven features and Fivio often sounds a little out of place on the brighter, more sanitized sounds. Many people were expecting a new meaning of the titular acronym after GZA’s classic album – the fact that it carries the exact same meaning, and the fact that most of the best tracks here coast off the nostalgia of a well-chosen sample, tell you most of what you need to know.
The tonal disconnect doesn’t reveal itself any better than on the opening track, “On God.” With a hook sung by the reverent tones of KayCyy and some slow-moving emotional chords, strings and a gospel choir in the back, Fivio gets to work talking about how far he’s come but the triplet flows, growling cadence and gun ad-libs sound highly strange against the diametrically opposed sonic palate. The next two tracks both feature Migos rapper Quavo, who surprisingly turns in two pretty great performances. “Through the Fire” is a direct homage to Kanye West’s “Through the Wire,” right down to sampling a different part of the same song. The gospel sound continues, but with more of a joyful, celebratory tone than the solemnity of the previous track. It ends up being one of the best mixes of drill with more commercial pop-rap material on the whole project, as Fivio gives one of his most energetic performances and the skittering hi-hats line up nicely with the bright gospel pianos. After Quavo provides an engaging melodic contrast to Fivio’s bars, he kicks off “Magic City” with some of his most technical flows in years – and it’s not the Migos flow, either. The track doesn’t have one of Fivio’s best performances or a memorable hook, but it’s one of the most standard drill songs on the album and it’s nice to see him still holding firm to his roots in one way or another. And if you can ignore the uncomfortable lines about his ex-wife’s new relationship with a certain SNL comedian from Kanye on lead single “City of Gods,” Alicia Keys even makes a hook lifted from The Chainsmokers sound great on another combination of drill bass and bright synths that definitely grows on you.
The track “What’s My Name” certainly relies quite heavily on a sample of Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” but it’s a really good one. With a quotable and melodic hook and a verse that doesn’t compromise drill values as Fivio presents himself as a confident and perhaps dangerous character even when it comes to matters of the heart, it’s the closest he gets to the magical crossover appeal that Pop Smoke had. Queen Naija brings some Beyonce energy and Coi Leray adds another dimension with her tone as well on the back end. “Hello,” in contrast, is another romantic track where Fivio sounds oddly disinterested and low-energy – the last thing you want on a drill track is sounding like you don’t believe or care about what you’re saying. However, the near-a cappella portions of the track don’t do him many favours in the energy department, and even Chloe Bailey can’t save things. As the album reaches its halfway point, tracks like “For Nothin” and “Confidence” also feel a little like afterthoughts with their brief runtimes. “For Nothin” again finds Fivio out of place against a major-key sound and a poppy, chipmunked sample in the back, while “Confidence” is essentially a brief A$AP Rocky interlude, although he performs well and it’s great to see an unexpected co-sign from another NYC hip-hop leader.
While things do pick up a little more as it gets closer to the end, the project goes through another transitionary period of missed potential before it gets there. “Slime Them” opens with the eerie, ghostly noises and threatening lyrics of the kind of hard-hitting drill track that kicked the genre’s rise off, but there’s some awkward empty moments in the flow as the track goes on and a completely out-of-place Lil Yachty feature that finds him in way over his head, while “Feel My Struggle” just feels like another short filler track attempting a pop-oriented drill crossover as Fivio comes in under his usual energy levels. Tracks like “World Watching” and “Left Side,” however, certainly reap the benefits that come with the unexpected. The former is built on a highly prominent sample of Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” – Goulding’s chorus even plays under the rapped verses – and it feels like it works quite well simply because it’s such a surprise that it works at all. Fivio brings his A-game to his verse while Yung Bleu and Lil Tjay are both leagues above their usual insufferable selves. An even more surprising feature artist success story is the famously off-beat Blueface on “Left Side,” a big melodic trap anthem with negligible drill bass – but it’s an extraordinarily winning melody, and hearing Fivio jump an octave is an adrenaline shot.
The projects final moments return to inconsistency, but the track “Changed on Me” is a final celebration of all things drill. Vory sounds incredibly passionate on the hook as usual, and the bass hits might be more crushing on this track than anywhere else. Fivio essentially reuses his “Off the Grid” flow, but it went so viral for a reason. “Love Songs” is another nostalgic sample flip of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” with an average performance from Fivio, but Ne-Yo actually shows up for some new content as well. After another interlude-length track, “Can’t Be Us” closes things out with another trap-oriented but contemplative piano track where he interpolates DMX bars in a final testament to his perseverance.
In a strange roundabout way, B.I.B.L.E. once again serves to prove just how special someone like Pop Smoke might have been to the future of music – he made it big with some crossover hits while still staying true to himself and his vision, while Fivio waters down the sound a little bit after taking the throne. There’s still a lot of great things about what he’s doing here, but we need to see a little more of him rather than a focus-grouped tracklist before he delivers a great project.
Favourite Tracks: Left Side, What’s My Name, Changed On Me, City of Gods
Least Favourite Track: Hello