We live in the age of the scammer. Grifters worm their way into every area of life imaginable: news networks and YouTube influencer lists, bestseller charts and government buildings. American pop culture – and foreign policy – has long taught us the dark artfulness of the heist, the con job, and the (im)perfectly planned, idealistic robbery, from endless Ocean’s Eleven remakes to the Iraq War. Atlanta rapper and trapper Young Nudy, on the other hand, favors the kind of unromantic robberies that make middle-class white folk shudder, the kind rarely glamorized in film, whether they’re house invasions, daylight muggings or jewelry being snatched mercilessly from necks and wrists.
Nudy wants you to know that he can – and will – rob you blind. To him, it’s a sport. At one point on Sli’merre, the thrilling debut collaborative project between Nudy and superproducer Pi’erre Bourne, the Atlantan taunts enemies-in-wait that he once robbed someone twice just to teach them a lesson. Whole lyrical motifs are dedicated to these unique extractive talents (if you could call them that), but it’s his heightened ability to dig out melodies within wayward production that mark him out from a crowded hometown field of rappers. As such, Pi’erre Bourne’s sonic palette, the most urgent in rap today, allows charismatic, exceedingly slick space-occupiers like him to canter and bandlead with minimal effort – much in the vein of Die Lit, the Playboi Carti and predominantly Pi’erre Bourne-produced album that beamed in just over a year ago from their two youthfully deranged minds. Where Carti wordlessly oohs, ahs, groans and squeals with abandon, Nudy glides through with more coherent rapping.
On this much shorter and compact collection of songs, Nudy and Bourne speak to each other’s strengths, moulding together jolting, extraterrestrial beats and off-the-cuff rapping into one of the best collaboration albums we’ve heard from Atlanta rap since 2017’s Without Warning, the 21 Savage (Nudy’s cousin) and Metro Boomin co-billing. Sleek hooks materialize from the haze; otherworldly trapping escapades are coaxed out by big, brash drums; euphoric melodies slide out through cracks beneath the musical chaos.
Although pegged as the debut collaborative project between the pair, they have created songs together for some years now. On last year’s Slimeball 3 tape (his most exploratory yet), the Bourne-produced “One Dolla” suitably opened the floodgates to the weirdness held within. Though it aligns with Nudy’s increased chops as a songwriter, and acts as further testament to Bourne’s position as the ultimate aesthete of the SoundCloud rap pack, Sli’merre is a new voyage.
Even by modern rap standards, Nudy has little interest in conjuring images through words. Instead, it’s his resonant voice that dominates, balancing over a tightrope between yelping and lazy, nasally muttering, allowing himself to be soaked up – but never swallowed – by the ecstatic production. A mix of Gucci Mane and some hoarse, long-forgotten blues singer, his voice is surprisingly elastic. On “Hot Wings,” as the lurid beat levitates, his voice flattens, slowing down into an easily defined patterned flow whose pitch is in sync with the bubbling synthesizers.
You would do well to find life lessons or narratives in these shiny verses. Never straying too far from a plainspoken depiction of a treacherous life on the streets of Atlanta, he is at times restricted by his lyrical capabilities. Rapping in the third person on highlight “Shotta,” alongside a scorching verse from the ascendant Megan Thee Stallion, Nudy casts himself as a “robber,” a “trapper,” a “money maker,” and a “killer.” Rarely does he sound conflicted; even rarer are ruminations beyond swindling or chasing women. He boasts of toting guns (plenty of them) and talks drily of his propensity to rob, well, anybody. For better and for worse, lines drop like freestyled bars. Yet it never really matters since his voice is what makes everything click into place; words and outstretched ad-libs are massaged like Plasticine into the production.
Approaching textures that feel untested in rap, the beauty of the production work is how Bourne revels in the small details – moreish synths, ground-swallowing bass, random video game effects, by turns clattering and towering drums acting as the glue holding it all together. Nevertheless, it reaches for grandiosity. As ever, the 25-year-old producer lacquers all of his beats in a sugary sheen. Usually it’s an instrumental touch – soaring strings on “Extendo,” a wandering flute on “Mister,” pounding drums on “Shotta” with noodling guitars and spare pianos sprinkled throughout – but more often than not it’s a general feeling, informed by three-minute long beats that are feathery yet hard-hitting, splashed in color yet never understandable as pop. As an instrumental, “Hot Wings” could quite easily be confused out of context as some techno-rap fusion, propelled by acid synth stabs and a steely repetitiveness; Atlanta trap meets the ethos of Berlin rave culture, experimentation meets unyielding catchiness.
Although every addictive beat here sounds like something only Bourne could imagine or pull off, there is a freshness to their execution, a reluctance to lock into any one groove. “Dispatch,” featuring the always-impressive and wordy DaBaby, rides atop a weird, distorted synth that sounds like it’s vacuuming all of the negative space around it. “Gas Station,” meanwhile, is the closest thing to feel-good, satin-smooth R&B, in which Nudy alludes to his desire to find a woman as much of scammer as him. On Carti’s Die Lit, Bourne’s beats were pretty much all of the same wonky tapestry. With Nudy, variety reigns. The beats occupy a strange terrain; one moment it’s garish and obnoxious, the next it’s slow and fuzzily warm like a chopped and screwed beat. The strangeness is never overbearing though, it’s intoxicating and rewarding in its repetition like Candy Crush. When a song sounds like something another rapper-producer duo could feasibly make – “Sunflower Seeds,” “Swisher Backwood” – no matter how perfunctory they turn out, they lose their intrinsic value.
Sli’merre is a network of intuitive melodies and fun chemistry, uncanny in its ability to make you feel like it was created in a different dimension. Nudy, of course, is not a classically serious gangster rapper, laying out all of the various ways he will fuck you and your clan up in either skilfully graphic or multi-syllabic verses. That doesn’t take away from his menace – which is to say, some of Nudy’s strengths depend on what he doesn’t say. What ever admonitions he does offer are so earwormy and festering, you’ll do well to forget them, even in your sleep. “Whatever you wanna call it, kick doors, get money, jack, rob, nigga, I done did it,” he assures us on the opening verse of the album, foreshadowing some of the trifling ahead. Even if just for 40 minutes, Young Nudy and Pi’erre Bourne’s glossy, blustering partnership steals away your senses.