Viewers watched with bated breath as Desiigner took the stage during last weekend’s BET Awards (Note: MTV and BET are both owned by Viacom), and not just to hear “Panda” for the 817th time. Future was seated front row, which meant we were about to witness Atlanta’s hottest rapper sit through three minutes of his alleged doppelgänger’s out-of-nowhere hit. After “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 2” catapulted the 19-year-old Brooklyn rapper from obscurity and made “Panda” this year’s buzziest, most divisive rap song, Desiigner easily achieved what Future never has: a Billboard chart-topping single. It’s safe to assume Future’s not losing sleep over the matter — Purple Reign’s sleeper hit “Wicked,” currently at No. 41 on the Hot 100, has quietly become his highest-charting solo single to date — but you can imagine he’s at least a little annoyed. (At a concert in Syracuse earlier this spring, he addressed a sleepy section of the crowd: “Y’all must be Desiigner fans or Ciara fans or some shit.”) Needless to say: Screenshot fingers were at the ready Sunday night as Desiigner hurled his lanky frame around the stage, poised to meme the living fuck out of Future’s reaction. Which never came.
And that’s a good thing — for one, because we got this meme out of the deal instead. More importantly, though … are you sitting down? Are you ready to admit that 2016’s most annoyingly persistent nugget of Rap Twitter water-cooler chat was a total waste of everyone’s time? All right, lean in …
[Whispers in your ear.] Future and Desiigner don’t actually sound that much alike. Like, at all.
“But wait!” you say. “Are you trying to tell me you didn’t think that was Future the first time you heard The Life of Pablo?” Fair enough: I can’t deny “Panda” read as Future on first listen, in an arena with shitty acoustics, having had no prior knowledge of Desiigner’s existence. But upon further listening, the comparisons quickly fell short. “Panda” swaps Future’s instinctive cadence modulation for sheer speed; where a Future verse might spontaneously erupt into melody or swerve into a completely new flow, a Desiigner verse jackhammers its way into your head with blunt force and repetition. After a while, even the vocal similarities wore off (am I the only one who hears a bad roadman impression in there somewhere?).
Still, I decided to wait for the Brooklyn newcomer’s full-length project to decide whether Desiigner was a certified biter, a genius plucked from the ether by the unerring [cough] hand of Yeezus, or just a guy with a cool XXL Freshman freestyle that we should probably spend less time talking about. In an obnoxious but convenient twist of fate, my quest proved simpler than expected: This weekend, Desiigner dropped his debut mixtape, New English, a mere 48 hours after Future and trusty sidekick DJ Esco unveiled their latest, Project E.T. Esco Terrestrial. (It should be noted that the tape is billed to Esco, like last year’s 56 Nights and older collaborative projects like No Sleep, though Future features prominently on nearly every song.) This was almost certainly a troll move, and it wouldn’t be the first — to assume Desiigner hasn’t used the Future comparisons to stoke his own hype would be naive. But as Desiigner’s mixtape debut New English makes clear, Desiigner’s biggest troll has little to do with Future — it’s that he’s straight-up jacking Chicago rap now, and nobody’s calling him out on it.
Skip “Caliber,” a flattened imitation of a Future-circa-DS2 cut, and go straight to “Make It Out.” From the beat’s vintage Young Chop impression to the gruff, repetitive rhymes and nihilist lyrics, the song borrows quite liberally from Chicago drill. (To add insult to injury, Desiigner shouts out Scottie Pippen.) The next song, “Shooters,” is an even more blatant drill rip; ditto “Da Day.” Throughout the tape, the New Yorker leans on patented Chief Keef delivery patterns, stripped of Keef’s understated wit and knack for melody, and attempts the artist formerly known as Lil Herb’s brash double-time flow with none of the control.
Now, these are not bad songs, nor does borrowing from the sounds of Chicago drill all the way down to the “graaahh!” ad libs negate Desiigner’s work. We’ve seen this before: Two summers ago, Bobby Shmurda and his GS9 crew proved NYC rappers were capable of transcending their obvious stylistic debt to Chicago to make music that was wholly their own. Desiigner has been on our radar for all of four months, and I don’t doubt he’ll figure out his own path in due time. (Just one writer’s opinion: More “Timmy Turner” soul sing-alongs, less rapping, thank you.) But credit should be given where it’s due, and if we stop forming our opinions about music based on 140-character hyperbole and start actually listening to this stuff, that process gets a lot easier.