Your Old Droog came to the hip-hop game shrouded in mystery. While most aspiring musicians build their buzz by working to ensure their omnipresence, the Brooklyn native built his buzz by no one knowing quite who he was, and letting the music do the talking.
Your Old Droog made his first recorded appearance in 2013 under the name Imaginary Droog (Droog is Russian slang for “friend”), rapping on the little-known “Rhyme Strange,” a loosey track produced by DJ Skizz. He made his first big splash a year later with his self-titled EP. There was an aura of mystery surrounding the release because, for the most part, no one knew much of anything about him. He had no social media presence (usually a must for up-and-coming artists), and no pictures of the guy were readily available. This led to, in hindsight, a rather preposterous rumor: Your Old Droog was really Nas rhyming under a different name, releasing his music independently.
At the time, it really didn’t sound that ridiculous: Droog’s vocal tone, delivery, and flow were strikingly similar to the legendary Queensbridge emcee. Adding to the legitimacy of the rumors was the fact that the EP was going to be redistributed by Mass Appeal Records, a label ostensibly fronted by Nas himself, which has deep ties to Sacha Jenkins, a very good friend of Nas’ mentor Large Professor.
This all led to an interview with the New Yorker, a video of Your Old Droog rapping in his basement (with DJ Skizz on the turntables), and a sold out show at New York City’s Webster Hall in 2014. After all of this, it became abundantly clear that Your Old Droog was in fact not Nas, but instead a twentysomething Ukrainian-American rapper, one who grew up influenced by the likes of Big L, The Lox, MF DOOM, and Sean Price.
As time progressed, Your Old Droog continued to build his career, touring with PRhyme, recording a slew of guest appearances (from Statik Selektah to Apollo Brown to Gangrene to Masta Ace), released his eponymous debut album in the fall of 2014, and dropped a series of EPs, including the rock-influenced Kinison, The Nicest, produced entirely by DJ Skizz, and What Happened to Fire, a collaboration with Wiki of the NYC-based group Rat King. And today, courtesy of Fat Beats, he has released his sophomore album—and his first accompanied by national distribution—entitled PACKS.
There are inevitable comparisons to be made between Your Old Droog and Queens rapper Action Bronson, another white rapper who initially became known for his familiar vocal-tone/rap style that resembles another acclaimed emcee (Ghostface Killah, for those who don’t follow). Both initially built-up buzz through their blue-collar hustle and imaginative early projects. But whereas Bronson’s first “major” release didn’t quite tap into the potential he’d shown for years, with PACKS, Your Old Droog builds upon his strengths and shows his versatility without compromising his sound.
The album begins on an incendiary note with “G.K.A.C.” (translation: “Gotta Kill a Cop”). Your Old Droog spins a vivid tale of a wild city denizen, blitzed on PCP, who has a chilling “moment of clarity” and decides to start indiscriminately shooting police officers. Accompanied by his gun “Nikki,” the nameless shooter engages in an increasing orgy of violence, determined to deliver what he believes to be street justice. The track, produced by Nice Rec and E. Dan, is alternatively jazzy and then chaotic, featuring blaring distorted horns and strings, which serves perfectly in creating the hazy, warped scene.
Your Old Droog is clearly aware of how hard he had to work to even get to the point where he was able to release a nationally distributed solo album, even in this world of Soundcloud sensations. On the slow-rolling “I Only,” he raps about the importance of having a strong work ethic when trying to come up in the world of hip-hop. He details his steady grind and the obstacles that he faced to get to this point, and remains aware that this is only the end of the beginning of his career.
Throughout the album, he remains clear about his commitment to his craft, and his efforts to ensure that he has a lasting impact. On “Rapman,” he assumes the role of the proverbial rap superhero, committed to combating stagnation in hip-hop, be it through straight-up battling or teaching other emcees how to create verses the right way. However, he uses the track to promise to remain aggressive against all comers, rapping, “Yo, I’m sick of these sycophants trying to make their idols proud / I want my hero to hear me and shit his pants.” 88-Keys created the up-tempo jazzy track, which is either based around Bob James’ oft-sampled “Nautilus” or is certainly evocative of the song.
Like any good rap superhero, Your Old Droog is also dedicated to recording dazzling displays of his lyrical prowess. And there’s certainly no shortage of battle raps on Packs. The straight-forward “Bangladesh” features Your Old Droog and Heems (formerly of Das Racist) flexing over a slow, East Asia influenced flute loop, accompanied by a muted bassline and minimalist drum-track. Your Old Droog slows down his flow for the track and drops pristine rhymes like, “While I was making sure every bar is hard / You herbs was playing Pokémon, chasing Charizard / I peeped the scene we sipping green tea / The old head drops gems in the yard like Mr. Feeny.”
On the bouncy “Grandma Hips,” Your Old Droog showcases his fast-paced, tongue-twisting, syllable-bending flow, and is backed up by Detroit’s Danny Brown, who contributes an in-character off-kilter verse. With “White Rappers,” built around an almost disco-ish guitar and vocal track by frequent collaborator RTNC, Your Old Droog flexes a fast-paced stream of conscious style rap, working hard to ensure that he’s remembered as “a good guest” in the realm of hip-hop culture.
A major highlight and surprise of PACKS is that it features some of the first lyrical and production contributions by the “alternative” hip-hop legend Edan (not to be confused with E. Dan) in years. The Maryland native/NY resident produced two tracks and also contributes a guest verse. “Help” is a frenzied prog rock-influenced endeavor, featuring swirling guitars and random explosions, as well as verses by both Edan and Wiki. The trio of emcees attack the track with reckless abandon, matching the beats’ contagious energy. Edan seems particularly at home over the whirling track and sounds like he hasn’t missed a step during his long hiatus.
“You Can Do It! (Give Up),” also produced by Edan, plays like the other side of the coin of “I Only.” The song details the grim truth of how often talent alone doesn’t guarantee success and even the dogged commitment to your dreams doesn’t guarantee that they’ll come true. Over a mellow but funky piano sample, Your Old Droog details the lives of an aspiring basketball player, model, and rapper, and how all three try to make it big but fall short, coming to the harsh conclusion that sometimes people just aren’t quite good enough at what they do to be successful.
The album ends with “Winston Red,” an Alchemist-produced ode to freestyle raps, evolving NY street life, and purchasing loosey cigarettes from the corner bodega. The track, bolstered by pounding drums, a grooving bassline, and surreal keys and vocal samples, is another winner in The Alchemist’s production catalogue. The song makes a compelling case for Your Old Droog to record a whole project with the producer, as the emcee rides the beat with immense precision, rapping: “Spit real phlegmy, sip the Remy / Leave the Ace of Spades to Lemmy.”
PACKS shows that Your Old Droog has successfully progressed past the point of hungry rapper on the grind. Indeed, his second long player demonstrates both a commitment to delivering quality hip-hop backed up with the ability to execute. Your Old Droog is for real, and is ready for the hard part: making a lasting career out of rapping.
Notable Tracks: “Help” | “Rapman” | “Winston Red” | “You Can Do It! (Give Up)”