Nipsey Hussle’s long awaited major label debut is nothing short of a classic. The album proves that the West Coast has more to offer than just Kendrick Lamar, it’s been announced for some time now but the Los Angeles rapper delivers and give it his all.
Victory Lap was first announced in 2012, Victory Lap has seen delays of almost seven years due to label disputes. In the intervening years, Nipsey has released a plethora of mixtapes, all of which can be aptly described as solid. Nonetheless, you always got the sense that he was holding back his best material for this very moment – and boy has the moment has arrived. As appropriate to its title, Nipsey exudes confidence on every track on Victory Lap, aggressively tackling every instrumental with his biting flows and signature raspy cadence. And what instrumentals they are! These beats are some of the greatest rap production in the last six months at least, with the range and usage of samples particularly exceptional. ‘Young Nigga’, for example, brings together samples of PARTYNEXTDOOR’s ‘West District’, Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ and Nipsey’s own discography – it really shouldn’t work. And that’s before we get to the 90’s adlibs provided by Puff Daddy. But the track is an absolute triumph and sure to be an early favourite among listeners. But what’s even more interesting is when Nipsey and his production team venture outside of hip hop. Heartfelt opener ‘Victory Lap’ makes terrific use of ‘Knee Socks’ by the Arctic Monkeys. And ‘Keyz To The City 2’ is built around what sounds suspiciously like Beach House’s ‘Myth’.
Victory Lap’s opening half contains within a remarkable amount of infectious energy, where beat and emcee are completely in sync. The first five tracks in particular are a veritable buffet of West Coast bounce. While Nipsey’s contemporaries like YG (who delivers a charismatic verse on ‘Last Time That I Checc’d’) and Problem often fall in the homage category, its often apparent that Nipsey also draws influence from the East. Alongside its almost chipmunk-like sample, Nipsey’s flow ‘Blue Laces 2’ evokes Jay Z. ‘Blue Laces 2’ is followed by another highlight and another connection to Shawn Carter. ‘Hussle and Motivate’ pretty much encapsulates Nipsey Hussle’s entire message and the track is further notable for an absolutely incredible flip of Jay Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’. The East Coast connection continues with the use of Willie Hutch’s ‘Hospital (Prelude)’- also on ‘Blue Laces 2’. This soulful throwback has been used frequently in hip hop, perhaps most famously by the Notorious BIG on ‘Ready To Die’.
It’s impressive that Nipsey is able to interpolate these snippets – that evoke so many greats – while at the same time delivering an album which is very much his own. The keys on the intro are reminiscent of vintage Dr Dre and Scott Storch. And would any West Coast debut be complete without the use of the Roger Troutman vocoder? It’s use on exultant outro ‘Real Big’ is understated but a really neat touch. Like this one, there’s a number of flourishes and transitions that really add a further depth to Nipsey’s gritty raps – from the powerful strings on ‘Million While You Young’ to the jubilant choir on ‘Loaded Bases’.
Victory Lap also sees Nipsey display a greater mic presence than ever before – an area in which he has sometimes lacked as an emcee. His gruff, strained voice isn’t always to everyone’s taste either but here he’s really complemented by choice of production as well as interesting flashes of melody. ‘That’s me singing on the chorus’ he brags on ‘Real Big’ and his small spots of crooning are a revelation throughout, perhaps most significantly on the Kendrick Lamar-assisted ‘Dedication’. He also brings the best of every collaborator – Kendrick’s verse is typically shrewd while Dom Kennedy sounds revitalised on stellar bonus track ‘Double Up’. And while the Dream sounds like the Weeknd-lite on ‘Million While You Young’, his contribution adds an authentic sense of melancholy to the track.
Perhaps the only downside to Victory Lap is its subject matter. Like many of the rappers in his sub genre, Nipsey’s content is limited to surface level. He often tells us he’s the best out but there’s a repetition to his music that can’t be denied. But you’ll be damned if Nipsey doesn’t do the best with what he has while giving it his all, his insistent sincerity making up for the momentary lack of variety. He’s the antithesis of the ‘weirdo rap’ he attacks throughout and wears his status as a traditional emcee as a badge of honour. His animated verse on the first half of ‘Keys To The City 2’ is a real standout while ‘Grinding All My Life’ is a truly compelling earworm.
Fans have had to wait just shy of a decade for Victory Lap and Nipsey Hussle ensures that its been worth the wait. Like so many in the genre, his tale is one of the pursuit of success and, mirroring that journey, the album bursts out of the gate with real energy before getting increasingly reflective in its latter stages. And it’s in this second half that you can really hear the care that has been taken in crafting an album that has been so long in the making. Tight raps accompanied by some of the best production of the 2018 so far, Victory Lap seems certain to feature on many ‘best of’ lists by the year’s end.