If 2019 was the year of the rise of women in rap then 2020 is their year of dominance. There are a plethora of talented women making every type of rap and it’s exciting to see them doing numbers and getting the coverage they’ve been deserving of for years. One of the women ready to take over the back half of this year is Armani Caesar. She was already making moves and had plenty of buzz before her debut Griselda project THE LIZ dropped last Friday.
I first discovered Armani when Westside Gunn announced she was the latest signee to Griselda Records. I was excited to see a woman in the midst of such a powerful group and naturally went to her already released tracks to see what I had been missing out on. While her output thus far didn’t “feel” like Griselda I was curious to see what she would drop now that she was on their label. My anticipation hit another level upon seeing the tracklist for Westside Gunn’s Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 which featured a track titled “Lil Cease” that naturally had a feature from Ms. Caesar herself. When it dropped I hit play and the beat immediately reminded me of the instantly recognizable beat for “DR. BIRDS” and was anxious to her how she would sound on it… and she snapped. The icy beat fused with the confident coldness of her lyrics let any doubters know that they made a crucial mistake.
Her debut single more than lived up to the hype “Lil Cease” built up for me. Titled “Simply Done” the track features fellow Griselda member Benny The Butcher and was produced by none other than the living legend DJ Premier. How many artists get a DEBUT single produced by DJ Premier? Not only is this a myth making move out the gate but it shows that even OG’s like Premier, who don’t give out cosigns very easily, are seeing promise in this new school of talented female rappers – no matter what the 50 year olds in the YouTube comments of a Tupac video might say. DJ Premier’s scratches are naturally incorporated into “Simply Done” with choice vocal samples from Queen Latifah. Armani comes barreling in with her usual cool and confident flow with punchlines so smooth you might miss them. If you don’t head nod to this you might need to get your ears or neck checked.
Last Friday she dropped her official debut project on Griselda titled THE LIZ. As she is under the wing of Westside Gunn, it’s no surprise the cover is “#ART” in itself and there will be limited prints of it. Painted by Issac Pelayo, it showcases a popular picture of Elizabeth Taylor – but with a third eye and darker skin. My interpretation of this cover is it shows the project has a sound familiar to any Griselda fan but Armani’s presence is what sets it apart from the rest. As far as the music itself, there are a total of 11 tracks with features from the Griselda trio naturally. Most songs clock in at under 3 minutes with Armani delivering a one verse one hearse approach over Griselda’s trademark eerie keys and creative sample loops. We get a slight shift from the boom bap percussion with “Drill a RaMA” where Armani and Benny The Butcher trade bars over an 808 Mafia beat that picks up the tempo while keeping the mood cold. Armani’s verses are all full of quotables and just the right amount of ad-libs making every song have at least one moment where you have to rewind to make sure you caught the line. On “Mac 10s for Everybody” we hear her on a dissonant and sparse piano loop. The cackle of the keys blends with the drums as she raps “Copped the Benz truck and I got the Range in blue / Pink Bentley I nicknamed Majin Buu.” On “Ginger Rothstein” we find her flowing over a more elegant loop of piano keys as she growls “I ain’t even in my prime, no Amazon / Life is lit, it’s movie, turn the cameras on / Stay shittin, swear to God, need a Pamper on / They was sleep so I killed em with pajamas on.” “Yum Yum”, which was released earlier this year, is the only track not in line with the rest production wise but its inclusion is a testament to Armani’s range. This versatility continues with the easy going “Palm Angels” which could only be enhanced by Curren$y feature and album closer “Mani Moves Freestyle” which contains a Roy Ayers sample that’s as smooth as you are imaging it would be.
Like many Griselda projects THE LIZ has its share of movie and wrestling soundbites throughout. While they aren’t my favorite ones I’ve heard used, I can see how they accent the music by enhancing the tone of the project. As I mentioned, the short song lengths make the album easy to play front to back. The transitions between tracks are buttery smooth without them literally overlapping into each other. Armani shows how she can tap into the trademark Griselda subject matter just as well as she can get into her own bag. Minimalist hooks throughout make each track one that favors head nodding rather than singing along and I have no issues with this. As the year of Griselda continues, their newest signee proves she’s right in line with the movement. Anyone who is skeptical better catch up because the train is only going stronger and stronger.