“Formula” can be a dirty word among music fans. For many, it evokes thoughts of unimaginative, knackered music by artists dropping off uninspired fan service just to say they did. Artists are pressured by sects of fans to expand their lyrical content, create versatile projects, and promise new innovations with every album. Sometimes, the right sonic pivot changes the scope of popular music. And other times, they get artists on lists of bad albums by brilliant artists.
Everyone can appreciate some sonic wandering, but sometimes, as is the case with Atlanta rapper Young Nudy, there’s a benefit to knowing what you’re going to get. On his new album, Gumbo, Nudy sticks to his braggadocious, hunger-inducing script and succeeds across a 13-track canvas that places him further up the ranks of hip-hop’s “best ear for beats” board.
Nudy is best known for his chemistry with Pi’erre Bourne, who produced “Pot Roast”, a standout track with Key Glock, but Gumbo was predominantly cheffed up by Coupe, a producer from Macon, Georgia, who infused his background playing piano in church into his production software Fruity Loops 12, which he deploys effectively throughout Gumbo. He says Nudy is a big brother figure, and they’ve cultivated a “fun,” tightknit chemistry in the studio. Their synergy is felt throughout Gumbo, an album that excels musically based on Coupe’s most impressive attribute: his ability to create melodic interplay between disparate textures. On “Pancake,” he drapes eerie keys fit for a murder-mystery theme over a chunky bass line. The very next track, “Portabella,” melds together two differently idyllic synths as Nudy gushes about how drugs “take you away.” “Shrimp” is produced by Naestro, but employs the same technique, as middle frequencies flutter underneath a hypnotic seesawing synth, capturing the essence of Gumbo’s subtle complexities. Sonically, Nudy takes listeners from the muck to 30,000 feet — and everywhere in between.
Gumbo’s producers have crafted a project that’s immersive, but never overpowering, leaving room for Nudy’s distinctive, rubbery voice to be the centerpiece of the project. The trap music scene is crammed with artists nudging one another for the spotlight. As revolutionary as the sound has become, it’s fair to acknowledge that it’s chock-full of hundreds of rappers toying with the same limited thematic palette. They explore similar street dynamics, make the same threats, and namecheck the same suite of luxury brands. It’s a sport where small wrinkles can turn otherwise rudimentary lyrical content into high art. For Nudy, it’s not only his beat selection, but his charisma and voice that make him a character you want to hear more from.
A listener’s enjoyment of his catalog doesn’t hinge on “believability” as much as on how much fun he’s having while rapping. He sloshes through album opener “Brussel Sprout,” blending ad-libs and end rhymes into the next bar like a painter crosshatching brush strokes. From the hushed menace of “M.R.E.” to matching Key Glock and 21 Savage’s guest features with invigorated double-time flows, he takes on a number of approaches throughout Gumbo, keeping his cool throughout. Even when he simulates gunshot bucks at the end of “Peaches & Eggplant,” with 21 Savage, it sounds like he’s being just forceful enough to be felt, but not so much so that he wrinkles his shirt. He could have used the album to show a bit more of who Nudy from Eastside Atlanta is, as he does during revelatory moments on “Fish & Chips” and “Portabella.” But overall Gumbo is another strong offering from an artist who has mastered his craft, and is just fine sticking with it.