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Sheff G - One and Only Music Album Reviews

The boisterous rapper’s latest is mellower and more muted than its predecessor, breaking from the maximalist bluster of conventional Brooklyn drill.

Like most successful New York rappers from the last few years, Sheff G broke out by looking beyond New York. A pioneer of Brooklyn drill and one of its most technically gifted lyricists, he drew heavily from the implosive ferocity of Chicago street rap while adopting the husky patois of so many UK drill rappers. Even the music was imported: His 2017 street hit “No Suburban” was produced by Londoner AXL Beats, part of a fleet of British producers whose unflinchingly tense beats shaped the sound of Brooklyn drill.
Sheff G’s new album One and Only arrives at a precarious moment for that scene. Pop Smoke, Brooklyn drill's biggest star, was killed in a home invasion in February. Weeks later, the coronavirus put the city on lockdown, closing the clubs where this music is shared and market-tested for the foreseeable future. And while Sheff G is still a star in his borough, his belated debut The Unluccy Luccy Kid landed last fall without much hype or impact. It was fine, but the ideas already felt stale, not worthy of a scene leader.
One and Only doesn’t really feel like an event either, but this time that’s by design. It’s mellower and more muted than its predecessor, breaking from the maximalist bluster of conventional Brooklyn drill in favor of more nuanced shadings. Sheff G has settled on a producer closer to home, New Jersey native Great John, who crafts mood pieces from little more than hard snares and spectral traces of guitar—a distinct signature at a time when drill’s other architects are leaning hard on pianos.

Great John isn’t an elite producer, at least not yet, but he understands how to frame to Sheff G’s nimble, cavernous baritone. It's rare to hear such a weighty voice glide so gracefully. The sparse accompaniments do little to tame Sheff G’s innate rowdiness—“Moody” may be his most deliriously sticky single yet, while “Lil Big Bro Shit” plays up his feral snarl—but they lend an introverted energy that matches the moment. Whether by fluke or intuition, Sheff G’s timing is impeccable: With the clubs empty, he released a headphones album.

One and Only features a sequel to “No Suburban,” which under different circumstances might feel desperate—it's rarely a good look when a rapper tries to rehash a three-year-old hit. Instead of repeating the original’s formula, though, Sheff G uses “No Suburban Pt. 2” to highlight his evolution. The new track is as sparse as the original was boisterous. Stripped of its predecessor’s dramatic church bells and cacophonous embellishments, all that’s left is a husk, but Sheff G navigates it like a gymnast, his nimble voice spiraling over and under the beat at alternating tempos. He can really rap. Sometimes it doesn’t take much more than that.

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