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Behold, the changing of rap's guard. The collective obsession with Nicki Minaj seems to be in the midst of a generational shift; now, an exciting assortment of idiosyncratic female rappers are coming to the forefront. Stefflon Don is a name that might be unfamiliar to those consuming the American rap scene, but overseas, she's one of the hottest, bubbling artists in England.
Born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, Don sounds outside of the trap-heavy, sexually-charged stylings of many her feminine peers. For many, her introduction came when she was named to XXL's Freshman 2018 Class in a surprise move that irritated fans of artists like Molly Brazy and Rico Nasty. Although it may be a couple of months later, any lingering doubts about Stefflon Don's star power are addressed on her new project SECURE. She boldly steps from the grime scene into the lush tropical sounds of Jamaican dancehall for a lavish, multi-faceted vanity project of the highest quality.
The cover of SECURE is the first of many intrepid statements that Don makes. Don's album art pays direct homage to Lil Kim's cover for her second studio album The Notorious K.I.M. Kim, herself, was the originator of the rambunctiously sexy femme fatale personality in rap, that album being her breakthrough to the commercial scene; it sold 229,000 copies in its first week, her highest first-week sales of her career (it would later go on to become platinum). What made Kim so alluring wasn't just her blatant sexual confidence, but also her overwhelmingly dominant mindset. Not only was she cocksure about her foibles, she made sure that her audience knew that she was, as well. Her mentality would go on to inspire the next generation of female rap stalwarts, chiefly Nicki Minaj who's often been at odds with her influencer. Don's tribute is a bold homage to her predecessor and paints a picture of what comprises her musical aesthetic: big, bold confidence, with more focus on being a boss than exuding copious amounts of sexuality. She leaves the fascination with her alluring appearance to be extracted from the imagination.
SECURE opens with a feint, perhaps to trick those who aren't familiar with Don's music. "Lil Bitch (Intro)" is dark trap rap; Lil Kim's early-aughts mafioso lyricism is captured in a bottle and let loose in 2018. Don is boldly unapologetic with her fierce raps, each quip of the word "bitch" coming equipped with fulsome amounts of dripping venom. "Jellio" channels this barbarity into a slightly more eclectic package; the production is much bolder than the slightly derivative ambience of the tape's introduction. But, similarly, Don pulverizes the beat with her domineering tone. Each line is delivered with a sneering jaunt, like she's suppressing laughs as she goes along. The effect is breathtaking. There's a certain kind of authenticity that swag raps often lack; rappers often sound like they're trying to convince themselves, just as much as you, that their lives are the stuff of envy. But Don's delivery seems in line with a truth that she's trying to make evident: her life isn't just the shit, she's content with both her wins and losses.
The mask is raised when "Pretty Girl" kicks into gear and the carousel starts. Her Jamaican roots are the center of SECURE. This exciting element, often seldom touched in mainstream American music—albeit when it is, it's often inauthentic—comprises the belly of the project's confident tone. It's immediately clear that she knows her shit, too. She navigates the tropical production with drawling patois and silky vocals that sound polished enough to contend with genre stalwarts. Tiggs Da Author's chintzy vocals give life to the littoral atmosphere. The two together showcase the first of many reggae-inspired hits that help to bring awareness to her dexterity in the often one-note rap atmosphere. "Uber" drawls out her vocal for a smooth reggae-infused chorus that infects the listener's center, throwing you off balance as she disorients.
As the songs wash in and out at shore, a pattern starts to emerge. Songs infused with Jamaican culture crop in bunches, then heavy-handed ghoulish rap follows behind it. The exception comes with the last leg, introducing the Auto-Tuned smash "Regular." While Don practically drowns out her aesthetic with an intemperate interpolation of the technology that others since T-Pain have reworked down to a science, her strong attention to detail—from the moans, to the drawling, stifled notes—make it one of the album's strongest cuts. "Win," with DJ Khaled, follows, mixing her use of heavy Auto-Tune with some of the Jamaican influence that comprises the album's most exciting cuts. This amalgamation is the stuff of legends, creating a clear distinction between her and her fellow female contemporaries.
"Free Drip Tony Montana (Online)" is the track to prove to Americans that she can go toe-to-toe with any lyricist that steps her way, even if she'd rather spread her talents across multiple genres. Through patois, Don prioritizes quick-hit punchlines that will make fans of Cassidy or Soul Khan salivate. The choppy, scattered production, is the perfect backdrop for her assault. "Tony Montana online, Hannah Montana in person" is the perfect quote to encapsulate her creativity in regard to making absurd statements sound uniquely badass. It's an unusual highlight that's more minimal than album centers typically are, but it comes at the end, meaning that it serves as a teaser for what should be coming next. But it's one of the album's strongest cuts, and a strong showcase of bars for any rappity rap fan looking to the present for past stylings.
Naming the project SECURE makes a ton of sense after listening to it front to back. Stefflon Don didn't get handed a spot on XXL's Freshman 2018 roster; she earned it with her genre-bending capabilities. She knows that she holds a leg up to many of her contemporaries because of the genres that she traverses and the fact that she can out-rap damn near anyone in her age range. She channels Lil Kim's image in more than the cover for SECURE; Don's unflinching boldness and her confidence in both her sexuality and musical abilities are also derived from rap's queen. Don is a mountain of potential that's just now being mined by American audiences. If SECURE is any indicator, there will be enough to consume for years to come. Stefflon Don's spot is more than secure; it's off the market, for good.
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