On his second album PACKS, Brooklyn rapper Your Old Droog has brought an album full of East Coast boom bap flavour to the table. Few rappers sound as classic and as indebted to this throwback era as him, and for the most part, that’s a good thing. Following the release of his first EP back in 2014, he was mistaken for fellow New York MC Nas before ousting himself as a young Ukrainian-American up and comer – and it’s easy to see why. Your Old Droog’s flow, intonation, his whole style, and even his choice of classic jazz rap/boom bap instrumentation draw comparisons with influences like MF Doom, like Nas, and like the swathe of East Coast pioneers before him. While Your Old Droog isn’t making any major innovations, it’s his grasp of hip hop tropes that makes him stand out.
Much like Madlib’s collaborations with MF Doom, PACKS sees Your Old Droog spit over eclectic and jazzy boom bap beats, with there rarely being an idle moment. Every instrumental is full to the brim, with heavy drums, layers of sound effects, and Droog’s vocals on top bringing everything together. His voice was made for this sort of thing – Droog rapping over anything else would sound out of place. On the opening track G.K.A.C, Droog finds himself fitting a niche in the groove between jazzy samples and sirens sounding, grounded by a captivating bassline, and just shy of being noisy and abrasive. PACKS is unified by this jazz rap sound, but there are plenty of varied instrumentals, from the Indian-influenced Bangladesh to the soulful vibes of My Girl is a Boy.
Droog is equally effective on more subdued tracks, with his flow matching the frantic pace of faster tracks like Help, but also able to fall back on more casual joints such as the psychedelic and moody I Only. He’s constantly on beat, fitting the gaps in the groove perfectly. His slightly raspy, typical New York sound work wonders on these soulful beats – but even Droog is outshined by the roster of features that back him up on PACKS. Experimental hip hop legend Danny Brown drops in on Grandma Hips, with his crazy eclectic flow taking center stage on the sort of beat that was made for him. Wiki (of Ratking fame) and Edan deliver incredible performances on the aggressive and fast paced Help, while Swet Shop Boys’ Heems provides a lowkey verse for the jazzy raga rap on Bangladesh.
The lyricism on PACKS shines – after all, what’s a hip hop album without a one liner? Droog will hook listeners in over a few bars, and strike with a single line that sends audiences reeling. These bars are often ridiculous, like the “They been coming to me for a genius bar before the Apple store” on I Only, and the double take with Grandma Hips’ ” I pack some more — in just for good measure / That’s a good measure, ain’t it?” Where weaker rappers lack lyricism, Droog assails listeners with plenty of quality bars, too many of which will float over audience’s heads as they find themselves distracted by the his pure rhythm and flow.
PACKS’ weakest points are what drag Droog down from being truly incredible. Awful radio skits intrude between a number of tracks, and even though there are only three of them, they’re dry and unnecessary, only serving to slow down the album. The final act of PACKS sees some of the weaker tracks round out the album too, like the unsatisfying Rapman, and the finale Winston Red which closes the album poorly when it would have suited much better earlier in the album.
Yet overall, Your Old Droog’s PACKS is a strong effort and a successful escape from the sophomore slump that could have captured Droog. It’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not perfect, but for what it is it works well, effortlessly evoking the East Coast sound.