The Long Exhale: DaWeirdo Releases a Pair of EP’s

Darrel McKinney (DaWeirdo), like most good writers, is very observant. It’s clear to me that, as a kid, he had an ear to everything. The street, the wall between him and his arguing parents, and the dissonance in his head. His high register rap voice and asthmatic urgency makes it feel like he’s spent most of his life up until this point holding his breath. With every new story, or point of conflict, or morsel of gossip or hearsay, he inhales again but never let’s anything out. With the release of Broke and Ugly and No Face McKinney, it feels like he’s finally speaking up. And if that’s the case, then this is the beginning of a long exhale.

The two projects look like EP’s in length–each coming in at about 14 minutes–but they feel like albums in concept. Broke and Ugly, the first of the two, has a picture of McKinney and his family on the cover, everyone with their eyes smoothed over except him. It’s reminiscent of Tyler the Creator’s Bastard cover, and with its alterations- touches on the same eerie feeling. The subject matter on Broke and Ugly is oriented around his childhood- giving us a surprisingly well-rounded image of his upbringing by only indulging us with a few specific anecdotes told verse to verse.

When he says “This where strange fruit grow,” he channels perhaps the most damning metaphor in music history, brought to life in the late 30’s by Abel Meeropol and Billie Holiday. He’s not the first hip-hop artist to interpolate the original text or sample from a cover of the song, most notably Rapsody and other Chicago artists Kanye and Mick Jenkins, but the metaphor is strong in this context as an introduction to DaWeirdo and his neighborhood. A place where the strange fruit metaphor, despite being removed 80 years from its source, and despite legislation that says otherwise, remains relevant.

The following track, “Afraid of Church” has maybe the best instrumental I’ve heard in a DaWeirdo song, with a wailing vocal sample and knocking drums that swing from pocket to pocket. It’s reminiscent of the beats No I.D. used to make for Vince Staples as he was coming up.

His first line of the song is, “I got baptized with my pops, holding his pistol” and the next two and a half minutes are full of similar details regarding a childhood in Englewood, from roaches in cereal to grams stashed in grandma’s van, but never giving the full story. With only 28 minutes to fill across both EP’s, it’d be impossible to paint a complete picture so McKinney hits the beats that are important to him and leaves the rest to the listener.

The other EP in the pair is ushered in by the outro on Broke and Ugly where McKinney’s mother tells us that her son has a split personality and that he calls himself No Face McKinney, the title of the second EP. These 14 minutes are all about Darrel. Instead of telling us about the circumstances of his upbringing, he tells us about how they shaped him.

The first track “RedRum,” talks about violence in his neighborhood and seems to have a Baby Keem influence in the production with its bare main melody and sporadic sequence of drums that revolve around the 808. Not to mention the actual “Woah! Woah! Woah!” Baby Keem ad lib in the first verse. In general, No Face McKinney takes a more minimalist approach to the production, relying on 808’s to carve pockets instead of samples from other sources. The most stripped down of them all is “Attitude” which has a hook and bridge that could easily do numbers on Tik Tok.

Both EP’s can be listened to separately, and mixed up and enjoyed without context, but when you experience them together you sense a certain ambition in McKinney and a willingness to go high concept. With the recent success of some music videos, McKinney knows that these projects are going to serve as his introduction to a lot of new listeners. With that knowledge, he put together two very personal projects but was careful not to extend the runtime because as much as he may want to elaborate on these concepts, he knows the attention span of the average rap fan is not long, especially when evaluating a new artist.

Above all, McKinney is a storyteller. Comparisons to Kendrick Lamar don’t only hold weight on the basis of vocal inflection but also in subject matter. The same way that Kendrick painted a compelling, realistic picture of Compton, California, in Good Kid, MAAD City, I believe that DaWeirdo is capable of doing something very similar with the southside, specifically Englewood. Is he there yet? I don’t think so. Perhaps if the comparison runs deep, this is his Section 80 or Kendrick Lamar EP, but in that sense, the pieces are there and coming together.

Standout Tracks: “Strange Fruit,” “Afraid of Church,” “Sunday Dinner,” “RedRum,” & “My Bitch”

Both EP’s are available wherever you stream music.

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