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Shy Glizzy Tightens His Focus With ‘You Know What’

The D.C. rapper’s latest video highlights his strengths

Rap fans love talking about classics: classic verses, classic beats, and perhaps most of all, classic albums. Yet mixtapes — one of the primary ways that young rappers release music, both before and after the SoundCloud era — are rarely considered with the same scrutiny. This is partly because mixtapes were and are typically free, overly long, and poorly engineered. Even so, there is such a thing as a classic mixtape, even if the debate around them doesn’t swirl with the same fervor. Shy Glizzy, a 23-year-old D.C. rapper, put out one example two years ago. Young Jefe, his breakthrough tape, was characterized by its laid-back cool and a sense of humor that offset its often grisly tales of violence. Those qualities, combined with undeniable hooks — like the one heard on his first and only real hit, “Awwsome” — and plenty of quotable lines (“You’s a ugly actor ... Forest Whitaker / I gets lots of cheese, just like a tortilla”), made it a minor classic of the street mixtape form.

Glizzy has struggled to maintain that early level of quality since then. In mid-July, he released a sequel, Young Jefe 2, which lacked the ear-to-ear glee of the original. On the first Young Jefe, a song titled “Catch a Body” might technically be about murder, but Glizzy’s breezy hook and chirpy production change the mood to something more abstract; on the second tape, similarly violent tracks like “Let It Rain” and “New Crack” lumber under the weight of their subject matter.

The rapper found a middle ground on “You Know What,” one of the best songs from Young Jefe 2, which he was smart to highlight with a new video this week. The lyrics remain bleak — “I got some young niggas, 12, who like to smoke pot / Their ma don’t pay the bills, she like to smoke crack” are the lines that cut deepest — but the song’s hook of “you know what,” repeated like a mantra, opens up room to hear them more clearly. The listener is given the space to double back and think over Glizzy’s imagery. It’s a haunting moment that suggests Glizzy might have more street classics ahead of him.