BY: Max Strom
Released: September 18th (Griselda Records)
Genre: East Coast Rap
Grade: B Plus
Armani Caesar showed up on Westside Gunn’s “Lil Cease” last July and ran mafioso rap’s last, best hope right off his own track and left me dumbfounded. Capitalizing on the momentum of her standout feature, Armani Caesar makes her case for being the rightful successor to Foxy Brown’s years in “The Firm.” The connections to the golden era New York hip-hop are made immediately apparent on first listen. You hear the classic de-tuned and janky piano notes of a classic RZA beat. The fuzzy yet hardened post-boom bap drums reminiscent of The Alchemist, plus sampled vocal interjections from older rap classics in the vein of the legendary DJ Premier.
DJ Premier himself does the epic production work on the standout “Simply Done” that features a fiery verse from Griselda member, Benny the Butcher. Armani and Benny need to do an album together because then musical chemistry between those two is undeniable. The back and forth race on “Drill a RaMA” is one of the most fun back & forth style raps in recent memory. It’s an impressive rapping display that is sadly plagued by drums that don’t match the throwback style that Armani thrives on. “Yum Yum,” the other track the features more current production, fits better with the more hushed and seductive vocal performance. Both songs would be great but just on another album, but for an album that only features 10 songs and one skit, it feels all the more out of place.
Armani’s flow and lyric matter may remind listeners of “Hardcore” era Lil Kim, because of the gangster and seductress’s mixed lyrical elements. Still, there are more times on the album where she slips into the relaxed mobster confidence of Biggie himself. There is a sort of slippery cleverness in the delivery where words naturally fall into each other in a way that feels effortless. While many have tried to mimic this, Caesar is the rare exception that ultimately succeeds. She commands respect on the mic and almost always delivers, making the occasional weak bar feel a little worse. “Call my Glock Jelly, I promise it won’t jam” feels like a 2013 Lil Wayne lyric, just someone who can rap their ass off but is temporarily on auto-pilot. However, for every moment like this, you get full crime sagas like “Palm Angels.”
There are still some quirks that need to be ironed out, but those are overshadowed by her raw talent. It seems to me like she can only go up from here, which is very exciting. She is one of the best rappers who offer updates on the classic New York rap canon. Any fans of the mid 90s mafioso rap should immediately feel at home here. Her verse from “Lil Cease” from last July ends with a fitting lyric stating, “Armani is here to stay, you bitches is fast fashion.” If she keeps delivering like this, there’s no reason why she wouldn’t be.
About the writer:
Max Strom is a New York-based, Boston raised music journalist from a multicultural and multi-faith family connected by being ex-goths. He is an assistant teacher by day, but he likes to write about anything from essays on the changing cultural perspective on Chief Keef to a long-form ode to the mid-2000s NBA Basketball.
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