Album: “I Know Nigo!”
Label: Universal Music Group
Release Date: March 25
Few names are as important to rap as Nigo. Since creating the streetwear brand Bathing Ape, the designer/producer has tried his hand in every facet of the artistic industry. Having served as the DJ to the group Teriyaki Boyz and dressing artists like Lil Wayne and Pharrel through his world-renowned brand, it’s safe to say that Nigo should have easily been able to craft a masterpiece when curating his debut album, “I Know Nigo!”
Yet, even with features from Lil Uzi Vert, Pharrel Williams and the late Pop Smoke, “I Know Nigo!” is a mid-level disappointment that fails to deliver a project greater than the sum of its parts.
That’s not to say the parts themselves shouldn’t work flawlessly. On top of the aforementioned rappers, seven of the album’s 11 tracks were produced by The Neptunes — a producing duo composed of Pharrel and Chad Hugo. But despite the names attached, the tracks produced by The Neptunes feel decisively low in the rankings of their illustrious production discographies, marking a major disappointment in the careers of all concerned with the project.
The album’s lack of fulfilled potential is evident in its first track, “Lost and Found Freestyle 2019.” Iconic friends and collaborators A$AP Rocky and Tyler, The Creator rap over a two-part beat from The Neptunes in what feels almost like a gimmick. While A$AP Rocky’s classically confident verse pairs with the uncharacteristically jaunty beat, the immediate switch to Tyler’s grimier bars mixed with a more aggressive beat feels like a slap in the face. Compared to the pair thriving off each other’s energy in the 2018 track “Potato Salad,” it feels like a flat-out waste that Nigo didn’t let the two go back and forth as they do best.
Even with this uncomfortable inconsistency of this introduction, Nigo puts one of the album’s best songs right after. Named after “Game of Thrones” character Arya Stark, “Arya” features A$AP Rocky’s full swagger as he raps over a beautiful piano.Rocky saves his best energy for the chorus, delivering some of his most satisfying bars in years which effortlessly float across three verses, referencing everything from the iPhone to 21 Savage.
“Beautiful whips, check out the handle, swish / Shooters gon’ swoosh, hitters don’t miss / Arya, just add a ton of y’all names to my list, b—h / Death wish, not to be messed wit’, tested, quiz / They shootin’ shots, hittin’ bricks, n—s be testin’ the kid.”
Much in the vein of their previous works, Virginia-duo Clipse delivers a track on the spoils of success in “Punch Bowl.” As the duo — consisting of brothers Pusha T and No Malice — spit their bars, one can’t help but feel that the two veterans are rapping to us from their peak, where they are able to rest at the top where they deserve.
One of the album’s biggest flops comes in the form of the single “Want It Bad” by Kid Cudi. Ever the outcast, Cudi’s loveably alienistic persona is drowned out by an overload of autotune. What should be a classic anthem about being yourself is instead turned into a messy concoction of instruments and lyrics as the Cleveland rapper’s ad-libs become incomprehensible.
Never one to forget his friends, Nigo saves room for Japan-based group Teriyaki Boyz, whom he has acted as the DJ for since their formation in 2005, on “More Tonight.” Famous for creating one of the most memed songs in existence, “Tokyo Drift,” the group sounds nothing like the 2006 track, instead producing a club song that feels as if it is trying to capture a sound forgotten while appealing to the masses.
Problems continue in “Paper Plates.” Blending Pharrel’s singing with A$AP Ferg’s abrasive rapping, it cannot be understated how awkward the vocals are against the creepy beat. Pharrel repeatedly chanting “paper plates” feels like a horrendous impression of Kanye West on “Praise God.” Ferg’s flow does offer redemption, but the verse ultimately fails to deliver something worthy of the “Plain Jane” rapper’s discography.
Pusha T’s second song off the album, the Kanye-produced “Hear Me Clearly,” is one of the project’s shining moments, when Pusha fully embraces his persona as a badass drug dealer. But the song, despite its energy, feels like it’s missing an unknown ingredient, one that stops it from becoming legendary — much like the rest of the album.
Heard across the album, nothing feels new. Even with quality music, minimal risk was taken when crafting “I Know Nigo!” making it feel like a series of already tried-and-true formulas.
Thankfully, Nigo saves the best for later on, rewarding listeners on one of the last tracks, “Remember.” Unlike the many riskless moments that have riddled this album, “Remember” seems like a song that easily could have failed. The artist of choice, Pop Smoke, has been overused in the past year, with incomplete verses from the late New York rapper doing nothing but tarnish his name as they pop up in the form of features.
Surprisingly, Nigo and producers ReddoeBeats and HozayBeats turn what could have been another stain on Pop’s name into what will undoubtedly become a sleeper hit of 2022.
It’s impossible to deny Nigo’s impact on this industry, which is why the failures of “I Know Nigo!” feel so perplexing. The album’s less-than-expected quality and innovation feels all the more disappointing because it features some of the biggest talents around and Nigo’s creativity, exemplifying that it takes not just creators, but a desire to adventure into the unknown in order to create a masterpiece.
Alex Falter is the senior arts editor and can be reached at email@example.com
Alex Falter is a senior arts editor at The Spectrum.