Album Review: Young Nudy – DR. EV4L

[RCA; 2021]

2020 wasn’t a silent year for Atlanta trap, but it was a remarkably disappointing one. Two of the most hyped releases in recent memory, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake and Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red topped the charts but bottomed out creatively. High Off Life was Future on autopilot, and Savage Mode II, while not an outright dud, failed to build upon the potential of another 21 Savage/Metro Boomin team-up. 

But there was one noticeable bright spot, a little-advertised debut album from someone who has certainly enjoyed name recognition among hip-hop fans, but nowhere near the commercial success or reputation of his peers: Savage’s own cousin, Young Nudy. On previous releases, like his Slimeball mixtape series or Sli’merre, his collaboration with producer Pi’erre Bourne, you could feel Nudy’s full potential trying to get out while he was reluctantly tamping down his eccentricities. It wasn’t until Anyways that a Nudy release felt like something you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Released just as pandemic fears were turning from ‘ifs’ to ‘whens’, Anyways ended up not only as one of the best hip-hop releases of the year, but also a potential quarantine classic, pandemic or not. Despite running for nearly an hour with no features, Anyways glides by, with Nudy acting as a friend who drops by unannounced but who’s always welcome, offering sage advice like “Before you do anything, fire up you a blunt” and regaling you with play-by-plays of his latest crazy night out, all over gorgeously surrealistic beats from producers like Coupe and 20 Rocket, whose tags I heard last year far more than Metro Boomin or Tay Keith.

Much of Anyways’ brilliance stemmed from its contrasts. Though the production had a certain dreaminess to it, Nudy wasn’t just floating through some kind of neo-cloud rap haze. Describing confrontations where he might turn a nemesis into Swiss cheese or marveling that his shooters “look like Rasta,” just like he is. Rather than plugging his verses with stock descriptions of his guns and notoriety, Nudy gave them – and his choruses – dimension. It’s a fusion that’s somehow both relaxing and exciting at once, and Nudy seemed to have finally broken his own code.

At first glimpse, Nudy’s follow-up, DR. EV4L, seems more like a traditional studio album. But that’s mostly limited to the fact that it has features. Of the three guests that appear, only G Herbo is a new collaboration for Nudy. Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage offer features that are competent and surprisingly lively, respectively. For the most part, DR. EV4L is another total Nudy showcase, and in the 14 months since Anyways, it feels like his focus and skills have only grown sharper.

Anyone with a particular aversion to violence might want to sit this one out, though. As graphic as the lyrics could get on Nudy’s last album, it’s much harder to ignore on DR. EV4L. His bars are filled with gunplay and nameless targets awaiting his fury. When he says he’ll “Call of Duty the field” on the title track, positioned near the album’s end, it feels startlingly true. Not that Nudy and his team have amassed some kind of unquantifiable body count, but that he’s desensitized to violence in such a way that a gang shootout and a videogame don’t feel all that removed from each other. 

Only days after another mass shooting, it can be difficult to experience any kind of art so explicit with its talk of bullets and bloodshed. Although DR. EV4L doesn’t get into particularly squeamish territory, the frequency of these described incidents can be grueling. At times, I’m reminded of watching the third John Wick film, specifically during a shootout scene that lacked the wondrous lunacy of the series’ best sequences. Instead,  it was just a bunch of people, with no purpose to serve the story but being murdered, being murdered. 

No one piece of art can be held responsible for the actions of others, however. And if DR. EV4L could use a touch more of Anyways’ playfulness, its brutality has a purpose beyond shock value. Nudy is delivering his own brand of conscious rap: one where everyone knows the grave costs of this lifestyle, but a moment of reflection means a moment of hesitation. On closer “Walking Dead” he asks the listener if they’ve ever seen a dead body. Nudy has, and it seems likely he’s talking about more than one.

If 13 tracks dominated by gun talk sounds redundant and uninspired, it’s because few rappers have Nudy’s talent for personalizing his lyrics. “Mini Me” finds him getting philosophical in the heat of battle, with “Sometimes, I just wanna spray” being a worthy usurper of “Cogito, ergo sum”. On “Scott Evil” he reroutes another tale of shooting and robbing to talk about how much his mother loves him, and then gets right back into the thick of things. Tracks not named for Austin Powers characters also pull off serious pathos. “Colombian Necktie”, with its astonishing psychedelic production from 20 Rocket, has Nudy running through flows and feelings as he talks about family and drug dependencies. Nudy’s closing verse on the G Herbo-featuring “2Face” is one of the best performances he’s ever given. His shrapnel flow is so accomplished, he rhymes “pussy” with “pussy” 10 times in a row – and it works.

As not only a great rapper but also a great performer, Nudy knows the joys in being weird when you want to be. At different points during DR. EV4L, Nudy’s voice cracks and warps, and he crams syllables into his bars like he’s trying to use up every last bit of a piece of looseleaf paper. His beat selection is as inspired as ever, too, often maximalist but never obnoxious. In addition to contributions from stalwarts Coupe and 20 Rocket, Nudy is fired up on beats like Mojo Krazy and BavierOnTheBeat’s for the ever-haunting “The Rustlers”, and Mahd McLaren’s for “Scott Evil”. The chimes on the latter add real wistfulness even as Nudy is talking about fellatio.

It’s one thing for a rapper to not chase trends. It’s another thing for them to release an album with its title and multiple tracks named for characters in a film series that hasn’t had a new instalment in nearly 20 years (to say nothing of the Chucky doll on the cover, along with the inclusion of a track called “Child’s Play”), complete with a lyric about stealing mojo, and still come out sounding so much fresher and inspired than those vying for the most streams and nominations. If Young Nudy is going to stay in his own lane, DR. EV4L shows he’s the best person to pave it.