Give a guy $100, take them to your nearest J.C. Penney, and try to persuade them to purchase an entire outfit. For it to be socially acceptable, they’ll have to cut corners and go for the most cost-effective options so they can get a shirt, pants, and shoes. This is where having style comes in. You can make a good outfit at J.C. Penney for even $50; if you don’t have the fashion sense and ability to discern good from bad clothing, you’ll fail miserably. But if you give a guy $1,000 and take him to the same store, it’s almost guaranteed that what they come out of the store with will be sensational. More money always equals more options.
Music is kind of the same. Okay, it’s all the way the same. Artists on the rise have to figure out the equation to making critically-acclaimed music with mere pennies so that, eventually, record labels will dole out checks to do the same on a much larger scale. The projects that have a finite amount of dollars to be spent rely on creativity alone to craft an enticing package. When labels get involved, budgets are seemingly endless. It’s damn near impossible not to make something good, seeing that artists at this level have access to producers and other artists worth salivating over.
Enter Bhad Bhabie’s debut LP, 15. She’s the aforementioned sort of person with an unlimited pool of resources. But there’s a deeper discussion to be had here, one that hip-hop purists may not be willing to have. Not only is Bhad Bhabie an adept rapper, she’s a captivating and cunning artist. 15 may lack an imagination, and parts of its success can be attributed to its luxurious splendor, but Bhad Bhabie’s debut largely succeeds thanks to an understanding of the cultural space she inhabits. She’s not just an acquired taste anymore; she has the chops to stand toe to toe with the rest of new age rap’s colorful cast of characters. Whether the world ultimately embraces her is another story.
Bhad Bhabie, real name Danielle Bregoli, isn’t just the “Cash Me Outside” girl anymore. Thanks to the genius rebrand-but-not-really of Adam Kluger, she was able to slip through the cracks of mainstream rap barrier-to-entry, because the culture would have chewed her up and spit her out if it had been paying attention. Her music thus far has felt puerile; like she was going through the motions while attempting to find herself, stumbling to keep up with the frantic pace set by her peers. With 15, Bregoli learns from her past mistakes and makes it a mission to pass this time around with flying colors.
15 is permeated by the feeling of luxuriousness. These are 15 tracks of bombastic bliss, but the decadence contributes to another feeling that’s immediately apparent – emptiness. You’d be hard pressed to identify its personality if you were forced to. Beats range from bubbly trap to moshpit soundtracks that make you see red, giving a semblance of life that doesn’t fully translate without a particular lens to view them through. But does it make the music forgettable? Not necessarily.
As the tracklist rages on, it becomes apparent that Bhad Bhabie is actually good at rapping. She has a surprising command over flow that often escapes artists her age, handling breath control and cadence with a veteran’s confidence. She even can switch it up without making a fool of herself. “No Love” makes a case for a magnetic second life for Bhabie as a singer, bringing together her polished flow and surprisingly smooth melodies. “Yung and Bhad” exists at the polar opposite end of the spectrum, with Bhabie’s stop-start flow channeling the best of the industry’s new school practitioners. There’s certain things that labels can’t buy, and one of them is talent. It can be a tough pill to swallow after watching her make a career of herself from being a twerp, but it’s clear that, based on talent alone, her inclusivity is well-deserved.
As far as lyricism goes, well, I’m sure you know that listening to Bhad Bhabie isn't exactly a master class. Bhabie’s a money-hungry adolescent teenager, with the scatter-brained, easily irate aesthetic to prove it. But her violent stream-of-consciousness raps are seasoned with flourishes of profanity and grit that make otherwise boilerplate bars feel injected with kinetic energy. Starting “Count It” off with “Blue bands in my luggage, wrist is Blue Bell with the ice ho/ 20/20 vision, but I'm Stevie to a price doe” is every bit as corny as one could imagine, but Bhabie’s energy helps to mask it. For the serious listener the lack of devotion to hyper-polished rhymes can be a disappointment, but for the casual fan of new age rap, for whom this album was surely made for, it's doubtful they will notice.
Another gift from her record label comes in the form of big name features from some of hip-hop’s best. YG, Lil Yachty, Lil Baby, Asian Doll, and Ty Dolla $ign are just some of the stalwarts lending their prestige to the project. For the most part, everyone succeeds at the tasks they are given; YG makes a strong case for booting Bhabie off of “Juice” and making it his own song since his casual anger matches the production’s constant prodding note for note. Asian Doll gives Bhabie a proper galaxy trap introduction on “Affiliated,” acting as the authority on the eclectic style that the former’s cultivated over the last year. When Lil Yachty appears on “Gucci Flip Flops” for an uncharacteristically glum guest verse that rarely elevates above a whisper, it’s clear that the song would have been better without him.
So many important figures on an opening project typically screams uncertainty on the label’s part, but Bhabie manages to hold her own. The wide assortment of beats is for the most part spectacular, giving way to Bhabie's polished flows and melodies that no outside influence can purchase. The finished product is a solid outing, but ultimately lacks the “oomph” to make it anything above slightly-better-than-normal new age rap.
15 is a surprising debut that doesn’t owe all of its success to the label’s bottomless pockets. Bhabie shows that she has the skills necessary to establish herself as the mark to beat, even if she doesn't have the mechanics of making a classic down just yet. Leave everything you think you know about Bhabie at the door before listening to 15 – separate the production and features from Bhabie’s own contributions and take note of her confidence and bravado. You’ll be floored.