Shy once described his pinched tone as something he couldn’t “escape.” It seemed existential at the time, but the 25-year-old D.C. native has since figured out how to soften that sneer. On his new album, “Fully Loaded,” he sounds exceedingly comfortable for someone rapping about the lethal borderline that separates the street life from the good life.
Just three bars into the proceedings, he’s meditating on his fame, his family and his future in beautiful bleats. “Damn, look at me. I blowed up, I done had a . . . son,” Shy marvels. “He’s a trust fund baby, he ain’t gotta hold a gun.” And right away, here’s an opportunity to squint at the scales of your mind. When a father defines good fortune as being able to protect his child from an unjust, weaponized world, what do you hear? Relief or regret? Exaltation or exhaustion?
Meantime, Shy is mastering his own balancing act, infusing tough words with light melodies as if he were hooking up mylar balloons to a helium tank. The most gravity-defying songs in this new bunch — “Diamonds,” “I Need Mo” — might be the most tuneful of his career, and at times, his sonority floats in perfect parallel to his lyrics. Listen to how he ties a neat bow on the first verse of “Live Up to the Hype” with a brag of self-awareness: “I’m so elegant.”
That elegance, that unhurried steadiness — it’s a D.C. thing. You can hear it in last year’s “Crew,” an odd-couple duet between GoldLink and Shy that felt frictionless enough to go platinum. You can hear it in Wale’s sauntering contribution to “No Hands,” a guest verse from 2010 that became his trademark. You can hear it in the go-go music that perpetually pitter-pats out of open car windows at nearly every stoplight in the city. And you can trace it all the way back to mid-’70s when a DJ named Melvin Lindsey began spinning blocks of silky R&B on D.C.’s WHUR-FM and dubbed the format “the quiet storm.”
Of course, Shy titled his 2017 album “Quiet Storm,” and despite its menacing title, “Fully Loaded” feels like an even quieter storm. This music flows — perhaps in a circle. “I ain’t famous,” Shy raps in the middle of the album, refusing to let his celebrity eclipse his humanity. “Just came from my cousin’s house, still eating ramens.”
And somehow, he bends “ramens” to rhyme with “famous.” The words are more malleable than ever, but the song remains the same.