"Swervo is my alter-ego," G Herbo clarified in a recent interview with Billboard. "It's the opposite of G Herbo. I'm not being humble. I'm not really telling you stories or filling you in on my past because you got that already. This is more of me having fun and party records." This alter ego would serve as the inspiration and name of his sophomore album Swervo, the highly-anticipated collaboration album with veteran producer Southside that lifts G Herbo of his street past and enables him to make more bantam music. It's bigger, louder, and more ponderous than Herbo's 2017 debut Humble Beast. Here, he's seeking out the party, determining to be the center of attention. As he stated in his interview, violence isn't this album's main draw. So if you're looking for the old Herb, look elsewhere. Herbo's matured, changed, and ready to take over.
There's something magical about the way that Herb strings his words together without stumbling upon them. Being that he's one of more lively rappers that populates rap's A-list, he frequently transcends recommended decibel levels and, normally, with other rappers, this would mean that his words would be on the verge of incomprehensible. Humble Beast, while preaching the value of reticence, was anything but. Swervo is the antipode of this idea, being an effervescent, intrepid opus catered to introducing another type of audience to his world. After sitting with the album for a couple of days, here are some of the main takeaways.
Southside and G Herbo have stellar chemistry
Often times—no, damn near all the time—producers don't get the credit they deserve for making famous artists, well, famous. Strip away Cardo's glib productions from Payroll Giovanni's Big Bossin series and we'd have boilerplate how-to-get-money boasts. Take away the turqid production of 2 Chainz's biggest hits like "No Lie" and "Riot" and we're left with a fusty lyricist sneering and jaunting about his wealth. Herbo is somewhat the same; his power extends from the creativity of the producer he's working with. Southside gave him a number of previous hits such as "I'm Rollin," "100 Days 100 Nights," and "Eastside Story," so it's only natural that he gets the credit for crafting Herbo into one of today's most in-demand artists. They've built a rapport over the years that makes their collaborations worth their weight in gold. This brilliance manifests in their joint project Swervo.
"Swervo" is perhaps the best example of when two different halves just clink together, but the album contains nearly all instances of the two operating in perfect sync. Southside's productions are all over the place—he seriously might be one of the most versatile producers in the game—and this forces Herbo to tinker with the parameters of each song. "We just have always had that chemistry," Southside revealed in their Breakfast Club interview. It shows in how trusting Herb is to let loose with either rap or melody, showcasing his growth as an artist as well.
Judging by the cover, these two have some serious guts
Rap fandom guards Golden Age artifacts with an iron grip. As evident with Lil Xan's comments on Tupac, if a new school rapper so much as even whiffs about the old school, all hell breaks loose. Herbo and Southside have shown that they have the balls to stir up conversation with the cover for Swervo being a direct remake of the cover for Follow The Leader, the critically-acclaimed sophomore album from Eric B & Rakim.
Follow The Leader released in 1988 on the heels of their highly successful debut Paid In Full. The rapper-producer dyad channeled the slick feels of the mid-80s drug culture in their music. It peaked at number 22 on Billboard'sTop Pop Albums and became their best-charting album in the country. It spurned four classic singles—"Microphone Fiend," "The R," "Lyrics of Fury, and "Follow The Leader." Critics lauded it for its inventive mechanics and the production (mostly handled by Rakim and Marley Marl with Eric B on the turntables) that allowed Rakim's muted, menacing raps to resonate with brilliance. Follow The Leader has become one of rap's most important bodies of work that helped to bring about the Golden Age of the 90s.
Being that Herbo and Southside are both mid-20s, post-drill musicians, they're probably not the most familiar with something before their time. But hip-hop never forgets, so channeling Eric B and Rakim's cover for Follow The Leader may not sit right with some. But their reason for doing the cover has to do with the chemistry the two have, making them as good together as their forebears before them. (Swipe below to compare.)
For the first time, G Herbo is untroubled
Herbo lets it be known in interviews that he wasn't always enjoying his lifestyle. "If I'm in the streets, I understand that one day, eventually, you're going to get locked up, you're going to get in shootouts, you're going to get shot." In the end, it catches up. And running the streets as early as 14 meant having to watch his back continuously, disappointing his mother, and living dangerously enough to continuously rotate in and out of jail. But now, he's happier; he's a father and he's in a healthy romantic relationship. That enjoyment manifests in his music. For the first time in his 22 years, Herbo can be carefree. That's what birthed the "Swervo" identity that helms the album. You can even see it in the video for the song of the same name; the look of dereliction when driving with an enormous bundle of money in his hands, the general carelessness as he gets a deep tissue massage from a beautiful woman, even when his friends are shooting dice with him in proximity to a colossal mansion. He's not fearing for his life anymore so that life is behind him.
He serves as a mentor for troubled youths in the streets
Herbo was as young as fourteen when he was running the streets with gun in hand; barely old enough to watch Family Guy or get into a PG-13 movie without an accompanying guardian. He's still extremely young at 22, but he's put the work in to be an OG. Now, he's speaking to the kids, letting them know that a life of constant violence isn't all that it's cracked up to be. On album opener "Some Nights," Herbo sets the stage with an anxiety-inducing intro about the things that he's had to do, letting the listener know that he deserves a purple heart. "Scared I wasn't gon' make it home some nights / Wondering am I gon' be a homicide," he raps with contempt dripping from his lips. Once he let the listener know of his credentials, Herbo then flips the script; instead of promoting the lifestyle, he pleas for the young to realize the consequences of living fast like that. "We was young and dumb, I ain't know how to fucking listen / So pay attention, hopefully I get to teach you different," his verse starts off with, then detailing the process that comes with indictments. It's mature wordplay that you'd expect from a rapper pushing 35, not one that was just able to start legally drinking last year.
He feels remorse about the life he used to glamourize
Commemoration and equanimity may be constant themes of Swervo, but the remorse from his past comes into play heavy on some of the album's more introspective tracks. Even when he's in the midst of rapping about a party, a line or two will slip in that seemingly disintegrates the good mood built up by throwing us back to the days on the corner. "Letter" is the album's tearjerker, exploring the world that his son has come to. It's brutally honest, and being that he's baring all up here, he goes into explicit detail about his street life with no filter, meaning that we become as haunted by the thought of it as he does. By letting us know that he was a bad example in his youth and that the things he did made some of his loved ones' cry, we become more invested in his growth. But his primary focus here is letting his son know of the circumstances that he came up in, so we feel the contempt and shame he feels for what he did. And that enables us to identify more with what he's saying and how he says it.
The push for a more commercial sound is clear
Herbo began with the hard-hitting bass sounds of the Drill era when his career first kicked into gear. Once he graduated from the bass-heavy sound, he incorporated more classic hip-hop ingredients such as soul-sampling into his repertoire. His music had grown from the drill sound that had begun to die out, but it was still particularly niche. Now, his joint project with Southside signals that he's ready to jump into more mainstream success with its wide assortment of beats that sound completely dissimilar. Think of a sampling plate; there's something here for everybody. This approach enables him to find what people like as well as to show his versatility. Say what you want about Herbo, but don't call him broke, or a one-trick pony.
"100 Sticks" is the gaudy, luxe Atlanta banger that showcases everything that makes Herbo's growth apparent. He works with rap stalwart Young Thug on one of the album's partying highlights and it sounds like a new lane for Herbo to adventure into. He sheds the cautious boilerplate that made his previous attempts, prior to Swervo, feel dead-on-arrival in their pursuit of breakthrough. But here, he lets loose, both thematically and lyrically. He's sporadic and wide-ranging with his raps; he left AOD last night, he's shopping in Goyard, he's constantly clearing checks. He's never sounded more unhampered. With Thug echoing this sentiment on the album's chorus, we've never felt Herb this in tune with the rest of the game. It's like he sees their attempts at club bangers and ran to the studio and yelled "Hold my beer." This push for a more commercial sound will pay out immensely in the future.
**More by [Trey Alston](