Your Old Droog made some noise in the underground when rumours circulated that he was an alter-ego of Queensbridge MC Nas. After it was discovered that Droog was in fact a young rapper from Brooklyn, he was given props for bringing old-school, lyrical, storytelling back to the genre. His self-titled début album was then commended for its “classic” Hip-Hop style and he also went on to receive praise from old-school legends including Masta Ace (even appearing on his song “3000 Avenue X”). A few more guest spots (with Statik Selektah and Westside Gunn to name but a few) and a few EPs later, Your Old Droog now drops his sophomore LP titled “Packs”, another album which blends old sounds with new topics.
The album starts with “G.K.A.C.” (“Gotta Kill A Cop”) which tells the fictional story of a murder suicide that echoes many modern-day police shootouts including the Dallas shooting with Micah Xavier Johnson. The lyrics include the line “I’m ‘a put that pig in a blanket” referencing the now infamous Black Lives Matter protest chant, but strangely, the song doesn’t feel dangerous or rebellious in any way. In fact with “Jeselnik Skit 1” following the track (a quick joke about “G.K.A.C.”) for me Droog misses the mark with the tone and the song comes across as “safe” despite the potentially rabble-rousing subject matter.
After this opening track, the rest of the album delivers non-stop, old-school-sounding Hip-Hop, which amongst Trap and other contemporary Hip-Pop derivatives out there, feels like a breath of fresh air. The album is very satisfying in terms of sound, length, and style, and ignoring the skits, I’d say that every single song is both listenable and enjoyable, nothing is watered-down and nothing attempts to crossover, this is unadulterated Your Old Droog from start to finish.
The production too is very satisfying, pretty much every track sports a distinct post-modernist 70s sound which follows on from Droog’s début LP. From the mellow “I Only”, to the Soul-esque “Just An Interlude” (which features a harp and an electric guitar) all the way to the closing track “Winston Red”, the album is consistent with its soundscape, and despite the production coming from a varied selection of producers (El RTNC, ID Labs, 88 Keys, Edan, and The Alchemist) all of them seem to have been given a brief to “sound like the 1970s” which makes for a uniform and steady feel to the album. The one song that sticks out for me is “Help” featuring Edan & Wiki (also produced by Edan) which at first sounds slightly messy with its cymbals, electric guitar, and explosions, but the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. This is the one track that sounds different to the others and the “I wanna rock right now” sample from Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock’s “It Takes Two” is well used during the chorus.
The lyrics on this LP feel consistent thanks mainly to Your Old Droog’s style which blends nonchalant narratives with typical Hip-Hop braggadocio content. Sometimes this can sound a little unfocussed and slightly like rambling, for instance there’s the nonsensical line “Say goodnight to my white neighbours then go inside and [rhyme] fight with light sabres” on “Rapman”, he then declares himself “the greatest rapper alive” on “Grandma Hips”, and then he name-drops some mediocre celebs (“My phone holds everyone from Taye Diggs to FKA Twigs”) on “Winston Red”, the only stylistic variation comes when Droog sings (badly but on purpose) “it’s not about the colour of your skin” on “White Rappers (A Good Guest)”. But when you hear the line “I don’t push an agenda” (also on “White Rappers”) it makes you wish there was a staunch point of view from the rapper, that way something like “G.K.A.C.” would come across as emotive rather than casual.
There are a few guest spots on the album including Das Racist’s Heems giving his typical Ma$e flow on “Bangladesh” and Danny Brown giving his B-Real-slash-Young-Zee delivery on “Grandma Hips”. With Your Old Droog sounding like Nas as well as these two aforementioned featured artists, there really is a feeling of this album being a throw-back to the mid-to-late 90s. With tracks like “You Can Do It! (Give Up)” sounding like a blend of Biz Markie’s “Vapours” and “Don’t Let It Go To Your Head” by Brand Nubian, this intentional or unintentional ode to the past can be the album’s main selling point but can conversely be the very thing that keeps listeners at bay. So with that being said, there are a few other problems I have with this release. Firstly there’s the unneeded Anthony Jeselnik skits, two out of the three aren’t even funny which for a comedian is a no-no, but at least they’re short. The other slight problem I have is that the album has a tendency to blend into one big mass, after you’ve finished listening to it you can’t say which song is the best or which is the worst, it’s all very similar, from the production to the flow to the content, there’s no strong concept to the album either. Now of course, all this wouldn’t matter, after all how many albums have a strong concept anyway? But with Your Old Droog delivering lines like “those doing weaker versions of what’s already been done before, fill their backpacks with C4” (from “Rapman”) you expect him to then bring something brand-spanking-new to the table, but he doesn’t. Yes, “Packs” is very listenable, yes it flows well from beginning to end, but like his début album, this follow-up also has a feeling of being unmemorable. I could be being overcritical, but in ten years, I don’t think this album is going to be remembered as a classic release because there’s nothing that sticks out in your mind as being new, or dare I say it, original.
On his FatBeats BandCamp bio it states “On his critically-acclaimed debut, the Your Old Droog LP, he vowed to “bring back storytelling” and now on his sophomore album, PACKS, Droog delivers on that promise” but despite these claims, I don’t hear it. “Packs” as an album doesn’t contain genre-defining storytelling, there’s no magnum opus like “Dance With The Devil” by Immortal Technique or even a standout example of lyrical creativity like Nas’ first-person narrative “I Gave You Power”. Yes this LP is well above average, especially in terms of overall sound, but just because contemporary rap music has dropped the bar when it comes to lyrics, it doesn’t mean anything that comes along that reminds us of the golden era should be given masses of praise. Like I said before, this might sound like I’m being hypercritical, but I’m not – this album is a 7/10, which is good, but “Packs” could have so easily been an 8/10 if a little more effort was put into the creativity of the lyrics and the construct of the songs.
All that being said, “Packs” is still a decent album; its consistent, it’s listenable, and it’s replayable. There’s no corny Hip-Pop and there’s no crossover track that sells out and tries to appeal to the radio, which is great in today’s musical quagmire. “Packs” is an enjoyable listen from start to finish and Your Old Droog proves again that he’s a skilful, relevant, and a much needed lyrical MC in today’s lacklustre Hip-Hop scene. This is definitely a satisfying album, fans of underground Hip-Hop and fans of old-school Hip-Hop should definitely add this one to their collection.
Like Hearing The Voice Of An Old Friend.