The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

RXK Nephew sounds like rap’s answer to this paranoid American moment

After releasing more than 400 songs in 2021, the hyper-prolific rap sensation still has more to say

Rap sensation RXK Nephew. (Deawnne Buckmire)

On the third day of this inauspicious new year, the hyper-prolific and gonzo-candid rap sensation RXK Nephew appeared on YouTube with his sixth song of 2022. It was called “Black Magic” and it found the Rochester, N.Y., native talking his nonstop talk, walking his nonstop walk: “This grind I got can’t be made up, I just can’t be laid up … You ain’t gotta hear it through the grapevine, you gonna hear it out the horse mouth.”

Yes, okay, but what’s going on inside the horse’s mind? That’s the big question mark lingering over RXK Nephew’s music — a sprawling catalogue of exuberant blab where metaphors mix, pet theories morph into conspiracy theories, irritations with celebrities bloom into fantasy beefs and the fog of paranoia becomes so laughably thick, you might end up convinced that government agents have cloned Oprah Winfrey. With an elastic mind and a loose tongue, RXK Nephew is blending the dead-serious and the just-kidding in a way that makes him sound as if he’s unable to stop himself.

Maybe he really can’t. He released more than 400 songs in 2021, putting him in the company of Lil B, Lil Wayne, 2Pac, Young Thug and other beloved rap profusionists who famously found ways to make quality and quantity sound like mutually reinforcing concepts. Across a year that seemed like it would never end, RXK Nephew never ran out of outrageous things to say — and his numbers are expected to stay up in 2022, thanks, in part, to one of his ongoing creative propositions: Any random producer can send him a beat and, for a reportedly nominal fee, he’ll rap to it.

Risky policy, but even when it goes wrong, it goes right. When the critic Alphonse Pierre recently compiled a list of the 100 best RXK Nephew tracks released in 2021, he gave especially high marks to “Blackberry Touchscreen,” a song from September in which RXK Nephew braves his way through some anonymous boom-bap provided by an unknown producer. A couple minutes drift by, then the rapper finally snaps and starts making fun of the music he’s rhyming over. “This beat sound like a b---- granddaddy just died!” Have we ever heard anything quite like this? Hard to know.

Same goes for “American Tterroristt,” a nine-minute odyssey through RXK Nephew’s most effusive and paranoid brainspace, with everything set to a drowsy music-box melody so transportive it might make you feel like you’re listening from inside his skull. Here, our bombastic narrator asserts that the Bible was written by the government and that “American Idol” was rigged. At times, he sounds like a student of “Why?,” a 2004 hit from Jadakiss that stacked existential and rhetorical questions like so many Jenga blocks. Other times, he sounds like he’s been watching way too much OAN. “Vaccine got us mutating,” he raps early in the dizzy proceedings, then pivots with a shrug. “I’ma go take it.”

From the mildly trolly to the flagrantly offensive, RXK Nephew’s songs tend to fill up with so much self-canceling trash talk, whether he really believes what he’s saying might be beside the point. “It’s not wrong or right,” he explained when the rap site No Bells asked him about “American Tterroristt” back in August. “I started off angry,” he said of the writing process. “I was mad at the whole world. But once I got to the fourth bar I started having fun.”

Maybe that gets at this music’s underlying paradox. Can a performance of paranoia generate real joy? Over the curvy pulse of “The Real Lil Reese,” RXK Nephew’s entirely reasonable worries about identity theft eventually spiral into a murkier anxiety over human cloning — and when his cadences shift on and off the beat, toggling between clear-eyed and unglued, it feels more like fun than madness. Near the song’s 13-minute mark, he calls himself the “new Eric Snowden.” Is he confusing former NBA star Eric Snow with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden? Again, hard to know.

The only certainty offered here is that there’s a human being rapping these songs. On New Year’s Eve, RXK Nephew dropped one on YouTube titled “Last Day of the Year Still Trapping,” and if you’re looking for a devastatingly pithy lyric about the spiritual dilemma at the center of this profoundly lonely, ruinously overconnected, obscenely performative, deeply freaked-out social media age, here goes: “Whole lot to say but no one to talk to.”

Read more:

Playboi Carti made the album of the year. Playboi Carti made the album of the year. Playboi Carti made the

20 ways of thinking about nostalgia from a year of backward listening

Drakeo the Ruler wanted us to listen close. His death brings a disorienting silence.