[Freebandz; 2020]

Cleveland-based rapper Doe Boy and 808 Mafia producer Southside are both now in their second decade of music. Following an 18-month stint in jail in the mid-2010s for aggravated robbery, the relatively unheralded Doe Boy has been dropping mixtapes and collaborating with bigger artists, scoring a minor hit last year with the Meek Mill and Future-assisted “100 Shooters”. In fact, Future has been a proponent of Doe Boy for years now, even shouting him out on the intro to Monster highlight “My Savages”, but much like the Freebandz ambassador’s latest releases, Doe Boy’s recent output is more run-of-the-mill than genre-defining. That remains the case with Demons R Us, his third release on the Freebandz imprint of Epic Records, and the first completely produced by Southside.

To his credit, Southside has been one of the most consistently reliable producers in hip-hop over the past 10 years, and his formula hasn’t changed much. Those skittering drums, sirens and menacing melodies are just as suited to Doe Boy as they were to his previous collaborators 21 Savage and G Herbo (and Southside was surely hoping to continue his hot streak here, coming off the excellent Swervo). Since the golden days of Waka Flocka mixtapes, ‘real trap shit’ has been his M.O., and there’s plenty of it here. However, Doe Boy’s presence on the mic is grating over an hour, and one can’t help but feel they’d rather be hearing another trap-rapper grace these beats instead. Even his signature adlib, “Oh reallyyyy?”, sounded better when Young Thug borrowed it on last year’s “I’m Scared”.

It’s no surprise, then, that many of the best moments on Demons R Us come in the form of guest appearances. Arguable 2020 Rap MVP Lil Uzi Vert slips into a rapid-fire flow (turns out they call him Uzi for a reason) on “Bussin”. Relative newcomer 42 Dugg continues to impress (check out his great features on Lil Baby’s latest if you haven’t already) on “Get in Dere”. And honestly, hearing Swae Lee coolly rapping “Chillin’ on a private jet / I know her legs long” on “Expensive” is probably the highlight of the entire project.

Doe Boy is technically proficient: a decent rapper who can more than keep up with these tough beats. However, lyrically he’s adding nothing new, happy to mine the same weary tropes that have only grown more tiresome in a post-Future landscape. Beyond this, there are some truly bad lines here. I’m thinking of the “social distancing” puns on “Stimulus Check”, or “Name Doe Boy, but ain’t sweet like a cookie” on “Tellin’ Ya”. The worst offense comes on “Yesterday”, with the despicable “We gon’ shoot this bitch up / Tory Lanez.” I really hope I never have to hear another rapper joke about that incident, ever.

Still, there are some standout cuts on this mid-level project. On the 15th track, Doe Boy finally finds a successful narrative (and hook!) in the form of “Troublesome”, and “Huntin” has a cool beat-switch that exemplifies Southside’s talent in crafting certified bangers. Sprinkled throughout are hard-edged beats and talented guests, hinting at the possibility of a good trap effort, but, overall, Demons R Us accomplishes relatively little in its taxing hour. These beats would certainly have been better served elsewhere.

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