The last year or so has been bad for the mumble rap scene: from XXXTentacion’s passing in 2018 to the convictions of Lil Durk, Kodak Black, and YNW Melly. One could also include Yung Bans in that cohort, a bubblegum trapper currently on house arrest from murder charges at age 15. On Misunderstood, though, Bans is as confident as his overblown Twitter persona might suggest: “Bitch I came from nothin’ / turned it into somethin’” he croons on “Ready Set Go,” right before fellow embattled street rapper 03 Greedo joins in and pulverizes the subsequent verse. Over a five-volume mixtape series, Bans has carved out a lane for himself, by taking, as his twin loadstones, the works of Young Thug and Future; now, he’s woven 19 emotionally direct tracks into a kind of trap opera. Misunderstood has plenty of the oddball experiments that Bans has gained notoriety for, but with amped-up production (despite the necessarily home-recorded nature of this set) — songs like “Too Many Times” and “Hold Up,” the latter featuring Gunna and Thug delicately trading flow atop an instrumental that we’ll call this album’s piano sonata. There’s a pervasive melancholy to be found in all the ways that Bans desperately reconfigures his voice on “Prada Zombie,” as he ultimately begs the listener to seriously consider the assertion that he’s “the chosen one.” And yet at the drop of a hat Bans can stop breaking hearts and deliver eminently playful bangers like “Blah Blah Blah” and “Going Berzurk,” the latter an aria which peaks as Bans transforms the rote ad-lib “skrrt skrrt” into a falsetto ode to “sippin’ syrup.”
The trend of including a bevy of features on a rapper’s proper debut album never overtakes the Bans narrative here, but rather the expert arranging of the various guests augments the star’s performance: Lil Tjay’s emotive crooning on “Touch the Stars,” for instance, elevates Bans’s simultaneously silly, sexy verse (“Shit wet / Swim in it like a shark”). Misunderstood’s songwriting and arrangement are downright progressive, and that’s never more apparent than it is during the mid-song changeup of “Shawty / In Love With All My Bitches”: at first a prototypically jaunty SoundCloud track, things comes to an unexpected halt as an acoustic guitar arpeggio enters, down-tempo, and completely re-configures the triplet flows and autocroons into something you might hear on 2017’s post-genre Beautiful Thugger Girls. Nick Mira, Wondagurl, and Take a Daytrip all co-produced tracks here, and their fingerprints are obvious — having produced for Juice WRLD, Sheck Wes, and Lil Yachty, they are all, also, no stranger to, well, other misunderstood rappers. And while some later tracks get a little too atmospheric and unruly (Nav feature incoming…), there’s no question that the little pleasures Bans consistently produces on this album are unlike anyone else’s who’s currently working. Perhaps the most consequential artistry here can be found on “I Don’t Even Crip,” a deceptively simple anthem — simple in the sense that Bans sticks to one vocal inflection, a percussive shout. But the flow ultimately syncopates with Take a Daytrip’s production, which somehow fuses the snare/bass of boom-bap with a trappy high hat, all set to a glitchy, ghostly instrumental that lags against the beat. In short, the song dances. And it begs you to dance. Found between tracks that practically bleed in their sentimentality, Bans’s newfound emotional control has devastating power.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Summer 2019.