“They love to hate, they love to hate / How ironic, I know / She loves my long hair and my tattoos / How iconic, I know / Women pounce often and my sound poppin’ / Y’all are clout hoppin’ while I’m house shoppin.’” So that’s a little excerpt from “Outlaw,” the second track on Diemen Crew rapper Russ’s second LP, Zoo — and if, like me, you find those rhymes weak and the content highly derivative, then there’s not much reason to listen further. Russ may be a platinum-certified rapper, producer, and sound engineer, but he is far from… an artist. Take the next track, “Kill Them All,” on which Russ takes it upon himself to assure fans — under his breath, at the end of the song — that he “be really tryna leave this shit.” He means to voice his distaste for certain elements of the game, but his targets are strawmen: “the media,” “the industry,” “the haters,” all “so obsessed” with him — and the other rappers he thinks are trash. But those “WWE-ass rappers” (or “Boondocks characters,” as he also refers to them) have a little something extra: talent. Why would Russ steal a melody for “Parkstone Drive” from Juice WRLD, one of the more unexceptional artists in the SoundCloud scene, unless he just doesn’t have better ideas? This is why the comparisons to Kanye West and J. Cole (and to be fair, it’s Russ himself who likens himself to those guys) just don’t hold up — even Cole, in all his canned braggadocio, can pull together a personally revealing bar about worrying over dick size (“Wet Dreamz”), whereas Russ’s idea of ‘personal’ is writing a song about how his dad lost the family business.
But the real reason Russ deserves to be taken down a peg is because he’s jaded beyond belief. The opening track on Zoo (aptly titled “Flute Song,” because duh flute instrumental) commences with the brag, “I do whatever I want / Whenever I want / I love it” — and from this we can almost conclude that Russ isn’t really interested in growing much. Which is unfortunate, because there are the beginnings of some good ideas here: the beat of “Outlaw,” for instance, sounds like it was ripped from a Suspiria-esque horror film soundtrack, and has the makings of a menacing banger; instead Russ drops bars like, “People say I’m cocky / People say I’m arrogant / I think a lack of confidence is very un-American,” with no wink or semblance of self-awareness as to how cheesy he sounds. “Missing You Crazy,” a track with a hint of substance to it (or at least an emotion with some depth) turns ultimately into a watered-down love song — Russ again using his rapid rise to fame as an excuse for shitty things happening to him and for being a shitty person in a past relationship. After awhile, these excuses pile up, and combined with the apathetic production and lack of anything much else to latch onto, Zoo adds up to one of the most disposable releases of the year.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 3