When you watch a Blocboy JB video, it’s hard to avert your eyes. He’s a transfixing personality—goofy, hyper-kinetic, charming and jubilant—who commands attention. His crew matches that same energy, whether they’re doing their now ubiquitous “Shoot” dance or any number of high energy, full bodied moves. When you watch Blocboy dance to the trunk-rattling, gothic-infused production that back his songs—beats that continue in the footprint of fellow Memphis luminaries like Three 6 Mafia—it becomes clear that his rap style is a further instrument to aid in the party atmosphere, with the music encouraging his exuberant movements. It’s with that in mind that you should listen Simi, Blocboy’s latest mixtape and first since being plucked from obscurity by Drake.
At 18 tracks that run just under 50 minutes, BlocBoy pushes on the gas from the onset and never lets up. Whether a song is full of bravado and brash street posturing like on “Shoot,” or sincere introspection like “Left Right,” every beat thumps with heavy bass and catchy rhythms, thanks to BlocBoy and producer Tay Keith. But they’re elevated even more by BlocBoy’s raps. Named after a slain homeboy who encouraged him to keep rapping, Simi is a promise kept in jubilant and triumphant fashion. “Lost some n****s to that gunfire / Rest in peace to Simi, why you had to die? / I load up my semi and shoot gunfire / And it’s fuck the other side ’til I see you on that other side,” he raps on the outro of the album, turning the tender inspirational song “O-o-h Child” by The Five Stairsteps into a heavy bass, hype record. It’s a charming flip showing that even in a vulnerable moment, BlocBoy sticks to the script, ensuring the tape’s cohesion.
As a rapper, BlocBoy JB is undeniably Memphis in his drawl and enunciations, harkening to distinctive voices of Memphis rappers both past (Project Pat) and present (Yo Gotti). That said, his actual rapping style owes a lot to Soulja Boy and Waka Flocka Flame in energy and the way in which his voice worms and moves along to the production as if its dancing itself. It makes for a hypnotic effect, luring you to impulsively move along with it. The way BlocBoy’s giddy raps and erratic adlibs are mixed into the songs to break or loop at any given moment feels calculated to both enhance that vibe and to nudge the listener into joining along. Throughout the tape, his lyrics bounce around from irreverence (“In the air like a UFO / I’m pulling cards like it’s Yu-Gi-Oh” on “Nun Of Dat”) to explicit violence (“Thinkin’ ’bout the days when a n**** wasn’t rapping / We was robbing, straight jacking, trying to make some shit happen” on “Good Day”), but the vibe never changes.
It’s become harder to separate BlocBoy’s outsized persona and dancing from his actual rapping. They’re now nearly synonymous, and like Bobby Shmurda before him, his dance has become a defining characteristic. But it’s not just the “Shoot” dance—BlocBoy is constantly transfiguring his body into all types of exorbitant moves and highly involved steps along with his large group of friends. Both the dance moves and the atmosphere are euphoric and insanely contagious. On the video for the loosie single “Prod. By Bloc,” BlocBoy never stops moving, whether he’s dancing on the roof of a car, battling or encouraging others on the front steps of a house, or dancing with pots and pans in the kitchen. He’s constantly active and incredibly talented; a Michael Jackson for the Soundcloud generation. If Vine were still around, he might already be a superstar.
Even when divorced of a visual context, the image is branded onto the music, with the energy and production inspiring that same sensation of group activity and celebration. BlocBoy is a charismatic enough rapper—fine at continuing the tradition of hard edged street trap—but he also uses himself as an instrument, conforming and stretching to the rhythms of the music like a trumpet in a jazz record. He is as essential to the thrill of his music as is the bass.