November 30, 2023

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Baby Smoove: Hardwood Classic Album Review

A typical Baby Smoove song sounds like he’s having an early-morning, hungover phone conversation and struggling to recap what he did the day before. The Detroit rapper’s vignettes are a never-ending cycle of trips to shopping malls, pit stops at corner stores, sitting in traffic, and weed smoke-filled strolls through his neighborhood. The most exciting moments are when he shows up at Saks Fifth Avenue or gets a package from the Dior store in the mail—which, if you take Smoove’s word for it, occurs at least once a day.

But Baby Smoove’s music comes to life in mixtape form, where each track feels like a chapter in the story he’s trying to tell in the backseat of a long car ride. Though this lethargic style has a low margin of error, all it takes is a lackluster beat or an anecdote short on details and it quickly becomes painfully boring. It’s no coincidence Smoove’s best mixtapes—the piano-driven Purple Heart and the G-Funk synth obsessed Baby—are the two with the most consistently vivid production. He flourishes on vibe and feel, and without that, loses his appeal.

Baby Smoove’s second full-length mixtape of the year, Hardwood Classic is like a compilation of leftovers. On his strongest projects, the raps and production are complementary, but here they don’t have the same color or flash. Normally when Smoove uses the flow, which sounds like he’s in the recording booth wrapped in a blanket and neck pillow, the energy is made up for by uptempo and lush instrumentals. On “DX,” both Smoove and the brooding beat are lifeless—not even his lines about freely scuffing his Diors or referencing Shawn Michaels and Triple H’s old friendly catchphrase is enough to make it memorable.

In Detroit, rappers like Babyface Ray, G.T., Veeze, and the World Tour Mafia crew have made the lane of laidback lifestyle rap highly competitive. Why put up with formulaic production and mailed-in punchlines when there are so many other options? Smoove’s few funny lines about money counters and internet beef on “Swing the Wood” don’t make the routine Michigan-style beat any less forgettable. Similarly, the “Sleepwalking Pt. 3” instrumental is so sluggish it’s hard to even laugh at his guest Veeze calling someone a “jabroni” (“Jabroni” is in between “bozo” and “doofus” on the list of underused rap insults).

But even though Hardwood Classic is nowhere near the top of Baby Smoove’s fast-growing catalog, there’s still enough meticulously told tales to justify the experience. On “Load Management,” he raps about going to the store in a $6,000 outfit for absolutely no reason over a pulsing Enrgy beat; on “Prada Me,” he’s annoyed a girl, who is spending the night, keeps getting phone calls from her boyfriend; on “Floyd May,” he counts the number of Amiri Jeans he owns over breezy Mexikodro production. Baby Smoove can make his days of nothing sound as thrilling as Rio Da Yung OG’s borderline action movie set pieces, but only when it’s all clicking.

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