Chi-Town young gun G Herbo has been slowly grinding his way to the top of his hometown’s rap scene since making a big splash with “Kill Shit,” his collaboration with fellow Chicago rapper Lil Bibby, and his 2014 mixtape, Welcome to Fazoland. Having once inked a management deal with Cinematic Music Group—they’ve since parted ways—and being selected as a member of the 2016 XXL Freshman class, G Herbo prepares to introduce himself on the biggest of stages with his long-awaited debut album, Humble Beast, a collection of songs that finds the N.L.M.B. rep sharing his testimonial as a young Black man attempting to survive in a environment that feasts on its young.
Church organs and crashing percussion serve as the foundation over which G Herbo holds court on “Street,” the LP’s introductory cut that conveys the 21-year-old’s close bond with his dangerous stomping grounds. “A street nigga like me’ll be mostly dead or gone/But I’m at the stu, and when I lay this track I’m headed home,” G Herbo raps, juxtaposing the paranoia of his past life with his career as a rapper, but not without acknowledging sacrifices made and the trials overcome. Produced by Thelonious Martin, “Street” captures G Herbo spilling his thoughts in an unbridled manner, putting forth an offering that marries sociopolitical commentary with raw imagery of life in the trenches.
In spite of a poignancy and awareness that belies his years, G Herbo is equally capable of brash aggression, which the D. Watson and DJ Don Cannon-produced “Bi Polar” demonstrates. Rhyming over frantic piano keys, the Essex block rep spews cocksure couplets, barking, “Now I just walked in the car lot holding my pink slips, rocking Givenchy/If I had my life on the line, I’d take the shot but I’m not a Nowitzki,” before hooking up with fellow XXL Freshman alumni Lil Uzi Vert on the Southside-produced banger “Everything.”
The first half of Humble Beast contains hints of introspect, G Herbo’s debut truly hits it stride in the middle of the album, on the soulful tune “Man Now.” Produced by Kosine and Bongo, “Man Now” finds G Herbo reflecting on past experiences, including the death of his close friend, Jacobi D. Herring, who was murdered in 2013 in a gang-related shooting. “I’ve been stepped on, pushed over, pissed at/Shot, I’ve been bitch slapped, only by the police with my handcuffs/I’ve been spit at,” G Herbo raps, the emotion in his voice palpable and indicative of the rawness of his reality.
G Herbo displays the ability to commandeer a track on his own merit without losing the listeners attention throughout Humble Beast, but also makes sure to include a pair of collaborations, one with Chi-Town O.G. Bump J (“Crown”), on which the recently released street deity gives his host a run for his money, and another with partner-in-rhyme Lil Bibby (“Mirror”) that continues their streak of grisly duets. Despite coming of age in an era where many of his Chi-Town contemporaries shunned boom-bap in favor of 808 drums and synths and dabbling in the drill and trap sound himself, G Herbo finds most comfort in sample-driven soundscapes, which powers the latter half of his debut.
This is most apparent on the DJ L-produced “Malcolm,” among the more powerful inclusions on Humble Beast and one that finds G Herbo at his zenith. A parable about a troubled youth from a broken home with an affinity for violence that reaches his demise prematurely, “Malcolm” puts the focus on G Herbo’s knack for visceral storytelling.
“Once upon a time around the South Side/A young Black man grew up in a house/Had a pops he never knew, with a mom that’s strung out/His granny careless just about, say he’ll never make it out,” G Herbo paints on “Malcolm,” lamenting the pain that comes from a lack of emotional care. The tale is a gripping one that’s all too familiar in urban America, a fact that G Herbo himself admits “The saddest thing about life it keep revolving/Same story, different niggas, same apartments/Same gutter, same group of people starving,” he delivers.
Additional highlights from Humble Beast include “Trials,” a ChaseTheMoney-produced number that finds G Herbo touching on the rules and regulations of life on the streets, and the album’s lead single, “Red Snow,” an intense offering produced by C-Sick that conjures a bleak visualization of murderous winters in Chi-Town. G Herbo brings things full circle with the album’s closing cut, “No Way Out.” The track finds him documenting his rise from a young goon into one of rap’s most promising orators with the ability to be a breadwinner and change the economic status of his family, ending his debut on a feel-good moment that serves as the rainbow after the storm.
The road to Humble Beast has been a winding one and paved with equal amounts tragedy and triumph, but the destination is one that proves worth the wait and is defined by the obstacles endured to get their. Throughout the album’s 13 selections (and two bonus cuts), G Herbo effectively encapsulates the terror, rage and despair that engulfs his hometown while finding strength and solidarity in the loyalty of his N.L.M.B. brotherhood.
At his best when paired with refined backdrops that challenge him to reach deep within and draw from his past experiences and perspective, G Herbo successfully distances himself from being typecast as a drill rapper and proves himself as a well-rounded artist with the gift of speaking to the heart of the streets. Aside from slight missteps like “Lil Gangbangin Ass,” which sounds disjointed and finds Herbo fighting against the beat, and “I Like,” which includes a mailed-in hook and sophomoric lyrical performance on his part, Humble Beast is an exemplary debut that ranks among the best of the year, exceeds expectations and puts G Herbo in position to claim his stake as the prince of Chi-Town street rap.