Racking up a handful of high-profile features alongside artists like Future, Lil Durk and biggest inspiration Lil Baby – who apparently motivated him to pursue a hip-hop career with a televised performance – Kentucky rapper EST Gee dropped three projects last year, two the year before, and two more the year before that. Apparently following the NBA YoungBoy model successfully – which still baffles me as to how these artists still chart in the upper echelon each time they drop a project – his latest MAD arrives in a week without much competition. A relatively standard trap album that doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of ushering Gee in as a new star with a unique approach to watch out for, there’s a lot of derivative material and non-starter beats, which is somewhat unfortunate as Gee has a strong, percussive voice that sometimes has quite a bit to say about the difficulties that he’s faced in his life. With most of the stronger tracks at the start, however, the album mostly falls into blandness by its conclusion.
Things certainly get off to a strongly worded start with the opener “PRAY YOU DIE IN SURGERY,” which, unfortunately for this listener if anyone were to glance over at my screen in public, is one of the better tracks on the album. Over a beat that’s derivative but hard-hitting – I like the little echoes of twinkling piano in the back – Gee offers up his most emotional side, complete with believable breaks in his voice, as he gives listeners an overview of some of the challenges he’s had to face and the people that he’s lost along the way. The image of delivering a message to his late mother saying that she might not see him in Heaven because of the person the pain has morphed him into is a pretty striking one. Gee also gets a little melodic on the track’s second half, and it’s certainly not his strong suit. “BALL LIKE ME TOO” and “THE ONE & ONLY” also definitely get the head nodding, but both of them are mostly just good because Gee copies aspects that have already made other rap hits stand out. The former uses the same “Diamonds Are Forever” sample as Kanye does, making the track cinematic in the same way as he bolsters the atmosphere with growled ad-libs, while the latter is a little more original as Gee runs through some speedier flows – until he copies the melody from Drake’s “Rich Flex” and reminds us of how similar the two instrumentals are.
The track “BLOW UP,” unlike most of the others, makes it clear just how much of a Lil Baby fan Gee is. When the genre’s critics throw around the much-maligned term “mumble rap,” this is really what they should be picturing. Gee sounds like he’s trying not to fall asleep on this one, his voice gravelly and crackling with a lack of effort, and his words slur together enough that a lyric sheet becomes a necessity. “SLAM DUNK” continues to coast on autopilot, feeling like a distillation of the state of modern trap after the genre’s biggest innovators are beginning to move on from the trendy sound. The flute beat is extremely tired, though one positive that Gee continues to prove is his ability to vary his voice and make it sound like he’s a feature on his own song at times. A real feature does show up here, however, in Young Scooter, who does a decent enough job. “STAY FOCUSED” keeps the energy rolling with cash machine sounds, a hungrier flow and a more involved beat with some ear-grabbing synths. The extended chorus dulls the beat and lets a bit of air out of the sails, but it’s nice to hear some more specific lyrics about Gee’s family situation as well. “DROP TOP” is a little brighter and melodic as Gee alternates a grittier voice with singing – which might have been an interesting contract if his melodic material didn’t make the whole track fall flat quickly.
All of my complaints about “BLOW UP” are pretty much exacerbated further on the track “25MIN FREESTYLE.” Squandering one of the most engaging beats, Gee essentially sounds like he’s rapping with the stereotypical valley girl vocal fry, making for a highly obnoxious delivery and a tough listen. It’s followed up by “HOTBOYS,” which is a hilarious title for Gee to have recruited the violently homophobic Boosie Badazz for as a feature. It’s a highly unfortunate truth, but Boosie’s nasal cadence and exuberant energy is exactly the livening up that the album needed, especially in the midst of more melodic moaning from Gee. “US” is another one that rises above some of the sludge, as Gee demonstrates some of his more unique and innovative flows in a breathy tone, but it ends abruptly as the shortest track here before it could unleash its full potential.
Gee doubles down even further on the pitchy melodics as the album winds to its conclusion, with “IF I STOP NOW” and “LIE TO ME SOME MORE” both resting firmly in that camp. “UNDEFEATED” shows him going back to his strengths of opening up lyrically and offering some fun moments of wordplay over a trap instrumental, but it still needs a little more innovation to stand out. Things close out with Gee giving the spotlight to a friend on “KADAS SONG,” a friend who is thankfully a little better at singing.
While it’s clear that the elements are here for something solid if they’re all added up in the right way, it seems like another possible case of oversaturation distilling the quality of the finished product. Scoring the odd hit with a feature verse here and there won’t do much to help his craft as an albums artist, but the right combination of people in the room and the right amount of patience might herald something in the future.
Favourite Tracks: THE ONE & ONLY, PRAY YOU DIE IN SURGERY, US
Least Favourite Track: 25MIN FREESTYLE