Back in May, the "fuck Desiigner" wave was strong. So strong that I spent some time trying to figure out if I was supposed to be mad at Desiigner. Was the 19-year-old Brooklyn MC just an unoriginal (and unintelligible) Future biter? Was he a fake? Or did the little material available suggest there was more than the superficial appraisals (and dismissals) let on? It still seems to me that calling Desiigner a Future clone is hella basic, similar to the whole Action Bronson/Ghostface Killah debate. If you're so hung up on the similarities in vocals and delivery, you're not paying attention to the full picture, to the other things that make these rappers different.
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing the flash of energy that I saw in the "Panda' video in the release, quick removal, and final release of Desiigner's debut mixtape, New English.
Desiigner hasn't exactly disappointed me—there wasn't enough time or material to get my expectations that high—but after the release of the "Panda" video, which had me sure that Desiigner was taking the Future-esque flow and putting his own spin on it, New English comes up lacking. You'd hope that, on his debut, he'd expand his palette to make room for tracks that either hit harder than "Panda" did, or swerved into a left-field lane like the one hinted at in his XXL Freshman freestyle.
But there isn't a song that's bigger or better than "Panda" on this 14-track tape.
That's not to say that there aren't small glimmers of hope; the aggressive flow on "Make It Out," over that looped piano, brought flashes of the Westwood freestyle that indicated he could be bigger than the guy who lent his first banger to Kanye West to make it a stand-out on The Life of Pablo. Based on structure alone, "Overnight" feels like the closest thing to a "hit" that might come from the project that isn't named "Panda."
There are also solid features. King Push is the best thing about "Jet" (which is, quite literally, about the desire to cop a jet when you can afford it), and I'm glad that he made it a point to appear alongside one of the artists he brought under the G.O.O.D. Music umbrella after becoming president. The other feature—King Savage on "Zombie Walk"—perfectly encapsulates your mood when leaving the function at 3 a.m. after multiple shots and shotguns (among other things). This is lit, hazy material.
But one of the glaring problems with this release is that it feels incomplete. For a 14-track mixtape, there are too many non-songs. Did New English really need an intro and two interludes? Also, what's the story with the length of some of these songs? "Shooters" barely runs 90 seconds, and it's followed by "Monstas & Villains," which clocks in at 37 seconds—but somehow isn't an interlude. Tracks feel like they end abruptly, making for a confusing listen. This isn't how your first full project should feel.
I'm not mad at the initiative; I've been saying for a while that he shouldn't wait too long between the release of "Panda" (which dates back to February, even if the track has been bubbling since late 2015) and his official project. I don't know if that meant some kind of "Don't Like" remix renaissance similar to Fat Joe and Remy Ma's "All the Way Up," or that we should've gotten this mixtape earlier than when "Panda" landed on The Life of Pablo. But a collection of songs that fails to meet or exceed "Panda" at this point in Desiigner's career is a mistake.
The timing is particularly off, because just before the release of this mixtape, the internet was ablaze over the "freestyle" that Desiigner dropped to support the 2016 XXL Freshman cover. There was an immaculate melody behind his talk of furnaces and Timmy Timmy Timmy Turner looking for a burner. Even the biggest Desiigner haters couldn't be mad. If he had channeled that flavor into some of the production or songwriting, we'd be having a different conversation right now. But, for now, it seems like Desiigner is who we thought he was.