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Album Reviews

Coi Leray Brings Real Anger and Energy to Her Splashy Major-Label Coming-Out Party ‘Trendsetter’

Coi Leray’s album Trendsetter marks the culmination of a nearly four-year journey that began with the RIAA-certified success of 2018’s “Huddy” and continued with 2021’s “No More Parties.” It also included a handful of minor dustups: video of her at last year’s Rolling Loud Miami drew social media mockery for her concert audience’s nonplussed reaction; and, more worryingly, a war of words erupted with her estranged father, rapper and onetime Eminem combatant turned reality-TV star Benzino. Ironically, the tumult elevated Coi Leray’s profile, helping her emerge from the ever-growing swelter of rap acts churning out ephemeral TikTok froth for fleeting streaming notoriety, and solidifying her as a singular presence worth watching. No matter how times change, controversy still sells.

Stylistically, it’s easy to trace Leray’s pivots: the emo yelps of Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert, the melodramatic crooning of Drake, the rope-a-dope aggression of Cardi B, the melodic drill of Lil Durk (who shows up on a remix of “No More Parties”). Her career may seemingly blossom in the wake of Doja Cat’s colorful IDGAF virality, but Leray’s difference – and the attitude that animates this beguiling but overlong debut – is that she brings real anger and energy. When she raps on “Box & Papers,” “Got these bitches sick, asking why I made it,” it sounds like she has visceral pride at stake. Leray’s passion is thrilling to listen to, even when many of her songs don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Trendsetter is garlanded with guests like Nicki Minaj, whose lyrical flights of fancy help fuel the trap hammers of “Blick Blick.” Other bold-faced names include Polo G, A Boogie wit Da Hoodie, NAV, and Lil Tecca. Enigmatic drill pioneer Chief Keef produces “Mission Impossible.” Confessional R&B artist H.E.R. adds a cameo to “Overthinking.” Then there are numerous holdovers from earlier releases, like the 2021 single “Big Purr” with Pooh Shiesty, and “Better Days” with Fetty Wap from Leray’s Better Days EP. Leray shines amidst the starry voices, pairing well with Minaj on “Blick Blick,” transcending Yung Bleu’s mediocre Afrobeats come-ons on “Aye Yai Yai,” and punching alongside G Herbo on the thug love cut “Thief in the Night.” But some guests clearly exhibit a stronger presence. Young M.A’s gruff, ornery flow dominates “Mountains,” a roundelay that also includes Fivio Foreign.

Despite being a splashy, major label-backed coming-out party for Leray, Trendsetter can sound provocatively weird. Her lyrics can come off awkward and forced, like when she harmonizes, “Heartbreak yeah, but I don’t love too often/These niggas be addicted like morphine,” on “Heartbreak Kid.” Yet she can also shift from the nursery-rhyme cadence of “TWINNEM” to the jumpy bluster of “Lonely Fans,” charging on the latter that “Nobody can see my pain.” Leray gives a vivid performance throughout Trendsetter’s ups and downs, even if a distinct portrait of her “pain” lies just out of focus.

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