Prepare to reconsider the size of your hoodie.
If you have time this weekend — and you do, the music video requires little of it — you really should watch “Miami (Remix).” The song, by GOOD Music’s newest signee Valee (pronounced vuh-LAY), is originally from 2016, now reheated with a verse from label president Pusha T. (Sadly, the verse has nothing to do with bagging or selling coke.) The video, set in what looks like R.L. Stine’s nightmarish version of the port city, is as vivid and unsettling as REM sleep after quitting weed cold turkey. It’s exactly three minutes and three seconds long, and my favorite parts are all of the parts. OK, fine, my favorite part is the kids in swimming goggles shoulder bouncing.
Back in 2010, Kanye, Push, and the rest of the top-heavy label dressed in matching black suits and Ray-Ban Wayfarers and passed around a DJ Premier beat on BET. That was GOOD Music then, circa My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Eight years have passed, and Kanye now wears sweatpants exclusively. But more importantly, a soft-spoken underground rapper with lotus flowers on his right cheek and without blatantly obvious mainstream appeal is now the label’s captivating present and future.
If you read a few interviews about Valee, you’ll find a slew of things to like: He has a teacup Chihuahua and a Yorkie named “Firarri” that he performs with sometimes, and his favorite rapper is Bankroll Fresh. But more telling, and useful, is the hard truth that Valee seems sharply aware of: People have less patience for delayed gratification than they used to. Attention spans have shortened to bullet-point length, and five minutes is becoming a larger and larger demand on anyone’s time. Not that he ever sounds so dramatic about it, or bothered by it, or even anything more than nonplussed. It’s kind of his thing. Speaking to MTV News in late January about why so few of his songs run over three minutes, Valee mentioned that none of his friends can avoid talking over whatever’s playing for any longer than that: “No matter what video we’re watching, someone starts a fucking conversation about something that has nothing to do with music by the time the second verse comes around.”
Duly, your first real introduction to Valee was necessarily brief, and hair-raising (unless you spend a lot of time on Fake Shore Drive). Fellow Chicagoan Z-Money’s “Two 16’s” was the ideal environment for Valee to thrive — a spare, growling beat with a gnarring low end and plenty of negative space to dolphin around in. And dolphin he did. I’m still not done being confounded by his sleight-of-hand. The verse is challenging, if only because its construction is authentically inventive. And sly, in every possible sense of the word.
I don’t want to say this is the antithesis of drill, the sound most widely related to the city, but rather, drill turned inside out.
The label-sanctioned introduction to Valee, the playfully titled GOOD Job, You Found Me, was released last Friday. At six tracks and only 14 minutes’ runtime, the EP doesn’t overstay its welcome, and on it, Valee creates dreamlike moments in form and function.
The verses always seem to start in the middle, and it’s only once you start the song over that you notice “me and my niggas come up on you like front steps do” (“Juice & Gin”) doesn’t quite make sense, but makes perfect internal sense at the same time. He sketches out an idea, crumples it and pitches it aside, and then drafts up a new one. It’s music made to be looped and pored over, because there are always more brainteasers to tunnel into. Say, for instance, what exactly does Valee sound like? I’d say he’s part specter, part despondent hitman, and part Ozone the Cat from The Secret Life of Pets, although that’s still not even close to as good of a description as this:
valee raps like an old timey tiptoeing burglar— gabi (@gabra_cadabra) February 27, 2018
Valee is a peculiarity, underground rap buoyed to the surface that inspires the imagination. He’s new, young, exciting, and a coup for a music label that isn’t bursting at the seams with acts that check all those boxes. GOOD Music is still — what’s the word I’m looking for here — good. King Push will arrive at some point, as will Cruel Winter, and in time, Turbo Grafx 16, maybe, but it’s more than unlikely that Kanye West’s and Pusha T’s best albums are ahead of them. It’s fair to wonder what’s next.
Before the signing of 070 Shake — a relatively unknown rapper from North Bergen, New Jersey, managed by YesJulz — the average age of the GOOD Music roster was 34, and that included the 20-year-old Desiigner. What’s more, there have been a lot of failures to launch. GLC and Really Doe were signed to GOOD for four years each and neither produced a full-length record. Mr Hudson released Straight No Chaser in 2009, and CyHi the Prynce, signed in 2010, released his debut, No Dope on Sundays, in November, two years after a split with the label. HXLT, formerly known as Hollywood Holt and affiliated with Chicago’s Treated Crew, was signed in 2015. He released a self-titled debut two years ago, a post-punk project that didn’t have quite enough of anything — imaginative writing, coherent vision, enthusiasm. There was Teyana Taylor’s 2014 album VII, a fine contemporary R&B album that was sultry, sexy, and sufficiently stressed over love’s ups and downs, yet forgettable. Rumor has it the follow-up, executive-produced by Kanye West, is on the way. Kacy Hill was signed in 2014, but neither of her releases on the label since have garnered much attention.
Travis Scott is the obvious counterpoint to the line of criticism that GOOD Music neglects to cultivate its young talent, to grow it from promising to solo-debut-worthy. Whatever your opinion of him, and there are many, he’s released two platinum albums and has his own imprint, Cactus Jack, named for the spiked-bat-carrying alter ego of retired pro wrestler Mick Foley. On February 1, the same day Valee finally met Pusha T in person, Sheck Wes, a Harlemite and former ballplayer who once skipped a playoff basketball game to model in Yeezy Season 3, announced that West and Scott had signed him in a joint record deal with Interscope. That same day, broken foot and all, he released the video for “Mo Bamba” which, in contrast to Valee’s anything, is loud, brash, and confrontational. The video, and Sheck Wes himself, strong-arms you into believing that riding an electric seated scooter in a rap video is not solely funny, but also swaggy.
What I mean is, I believe it. This video is also just over three minutes:
The lesson to take away here is that with Sheck, and Valee, GOOD Music appears reformed and primed for the future. Each artist is undoubtedly odd, yet odd in ways that build excitement for their eventual, proper releases on the label. As we learned in the Rosewood BET Cypher a lifetime ago, Kanye doesn’t allow (too many) Urkels on his team.