A Very Important Project
What happens when the adolescent famously represented in Kendrick Lamar’s GKMC doesn’t decide to eschew street life and instead (reluctantly) walks down the darker path? That might be the most common story never told and in so, Vada Azeem delivers us Twenties Go For Nix. This is the urban scrawl of a good kid, raised in a mad city. In his words, It’s not going to be easy to listen to this. But, it IS important that you do.
It’s Not An Easy Listen In All of the Best Ways
2GFN is best discussed in two different veins: the story and the music.
In making the project, Vada spoke to how America was intentionally ruining black communities by planting drugs and weapons. It’s a personal thing for him because he feels like the government’s corruption in his neighborhood ruined his mom and dad’s life. Consequentially, even in a hip hop climate that sees tales from the trap with regularity, we’re delivered an honest project infused with raw emotions that force you to look at street life from a completely different angle.
Over the course of the (roughly) twenty minute project, you hear Vada consciousness bounce around. From the opening lines of the project, Vada declares that he’s not doing this for the sake of fame, critical acclaim or even the sport of hip hop. Instead, he feels like his message is purposed by a higher power and he seeks to deliver an untold story.
This sense of purpose is present throughout the project. From the moments of poverty where he was hungry and homeless, dependent on his friends to offer a helping hand, to the pinnacles of success where he decorates himself with flashy jewelry and accessorized cars to show anybody who sees him that he’s a king, you are reminded that his mindset and behavior is the result of social engineering. Coming to age in a time where he literally felt like he had no other options besides selling drugs, playing basketball or rapping, Vada found himself doing everything he could to protect himself even if it meant pulling down others in his community.
You’ve never heard Vada like this
Vada doesn’t hold anything back. To those familiar with his work, 2GFN’s may seem uncharacteristic to the type of music they’re used to. He doesn’t censor any details when detailing the violence (“I bought two new straps/I call em Chris and Neef/They a rock a fella talking dummy out his teeth” on Options); growing up without his dad in his home (“Walking through the wilderness like Ishamel/Praying for a father to grow me up and wish me well” on In); the hovering anxiety of street life (“I’m praying five times a day, and I don’t pray enough/and when I die, hug my momma when she cry, ok?” on Tecjam); or his general remorse for his sins (“This demon on my back/that I been dying to shake off” on For You and “All my brothers gone or they caged in/Sometimes I cry and wish I could’ve saved them” on Finna).
Though explicit (albeit with literally zero profanity), you shouldn’t mistake 2GFN as glorification of street life. The project is equal parts the diary of a kid who never wanted to be this way in the first place, a cautionary tale to other kids like him, and a mirror held up to an oppressive government. Running parallel to the narrative of his own actions, he reports the role of the police force: they sell the drugs to the dealers, let the dealers pollute the community (sometimes even their own mothers), let competing dealers kill each other, and then chase, arrest and sometimes kill the ones who survive.
Not a question of “if” but “when”
It all is commentary on the general disregard and apathy shown towards the lives of brown and black people which is why Vada is very stern with a warning:
“Little black kids, please don’t sell dope. It’s a setup by the government and they know that we know.”
Vada knows that this lifestyle is a dead end road, which is why, despite the flossing that he may do on songs like Finna, he raps on Tecjam not IF he dies what to do to comfort his mom, but instead THAT he will die.
Vada ends the project with For You which ties together all of the themes on the project in a pseudo-letter from Vada’s heart to the listener. He asks “do you know what it feels like to kill life, in order to live life?” It’s a sobering, relevant message cleverly embedded and concisely delivered.
The Music (Spoiler: It’s really good)
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the message that Vada is desperate to deliver would mean nothing if the music didn’t sound good. This isn’t a problem for 2GFN, because the production that Rashaad laces the EP with, steals the show. From the very first track, I was interested, which in my opinion is a far more satisfying sensation than instantly knowing if I rocked with it or not. I was thirsty to hear more because the beat on In was abstract, unique and compelling. The best way that I know to describe it, is to make reference to the heat that Pharrell used to lace the Clipse with.
Rashaad threatened to steal the show
Listen, the project sounds really good. The project is an emotional rollercoaster bouncing back and forth between chill and hype. Option$ is an instant banger and rush of adrenaline. Tecjam feels like a trip into outerspace. Finna’s minimalistic approach reminds me of Numbers on the Board and the beat switch at the end is crazy. Money Phone might be the most well-rounded song in the entire project. And For You is a laid back outro, the perfect come down after Money Fhone and the only way to end the EP.
Vada experiments and exhibits why he is one of the most uniquely gifted rappers around these days
Honestly, 2GFN would sound great as a beat tape but you’d be missing Vada’s rapping. The perfect compliment to Rashaad’s production is Vada’s unique voice and ambitious flows. He takes many risk throughout the project with his approach to the beat and though they don’t all pay off, the overall result is rewarding. For example, on In, he employs a staggered flow that straddles the line of feeling like he’s trying to catch the beat and feeling like he’s bending it to his will.
There will be mixed opinions on whether the delivery sounds good but it’s no debate on whether or not it’s compelling. On top of that, the staggered flow connected me to the theme of the song, when he delivered the line “can’t walk without cane” (which is a crazy triple entendre in context, by the way) all I could think was of some dope being stepped on. Vada is an excellent word smith and the project has layers upon layers of depth.
When listening to 2GFN, I jotted down notes about how I felt nostalgia to the first times I heard Jay Z rapping (Blueprint/Black Album/Reasonable Doubt were the projects). Vada exudes equal parts bravadao, braggadocio and fear when delivering his coke raps. He straddles the line between the lifestyle that his actions provide and the death (literal and metaphorical) that it brings as well. He’s unapologetic in his direct approach, telling it exactly how it was for him, giving warnings and awareness rhetoric. He even manages to weave in some humor on songs like Finna.
2GFN only has three guest on the project. Rashaad and Stalley both jump on Finna which elevated the song. Rashaad has a standout verse on the song (“My neighborhood was blood/That don’t mean we was related”) but Stalley’s leaves some to be desired as it doesn’t fully match the urgency of Rashaad and Vada. Ltz’s soothing voice on For You is perfect though. Perfect.
Them twenties going for fevers, no lie
All in all, Rashaad compares Vada’s lyrics to that of the Clipse, to which Vada said that “(Malice) was more effective in helping me stop selling when he was rapping about coke than when he became a Christian rapper.”
Vada’s purpose is realized fully on 2GFN as he delivers a complete project that uncovers the realities of a common narrative that is often disproportionately glorified.
That it sounds so good, its lyrics so rich, and its concept so complex, the project feels like (what I imagine a) twenty dollar bag of crack would deliver and it’s a blessing that it’s only $5.
Vada’s urgency and mission makes this project one that you can’t miss, no matter how difficult it might be to listen to.