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GloRilla is finding her voice

GloRilla hardly deviates from her points of emphasis, lyrically, but in energy, she's giving something different at almost every turn.
Courtesy of the Artist
GloRilla hardly deviates from her points of emphasis, lyrically, but in energy, she's giving something different at almost every turn.

Most fans of rising Memphis rap star GloRilla will tell you that her emphatic bellow of a voice is what drew them to her music, and story, this year. But it wasn't until the summer of 2021 that she unveiled her ominous delivery. Glo's first tape (and proven premonition), Most Likely Up Next, came out in 2019 and the then-19-year-old possessed many of the qualities that people love her for now: rowdy, car-rattling energy and valiant attempts at anthems about people having her f***** up. It didn't really stick, though. Her untrained voice was more of a light squawk and she was lost in a pool of not-quite-there artists from a city known for distinctive rap characters. So Glo went back to the drawing board to figure out a way to separate herself from the pack.

After taking time to hone in on a sound she felt more comfortable with, GloRilla met Hitkidd at a local open mic. Soon after he started releasing posse cuts featuring her and other promising young women from Memphis like K Carbon and Gloss Up. Tracks like "Set the Tone" laid the groundwork for GloRilla's ascension. She was already a local standout by the time her career-cementing single, "F.N.F (Let's Go)," hit this April, but that song was the first of hers to really click on all cylinders. The video felt like the full-day version of Megan Thee Stallion's "drive the boat" campaign, with Henny guzzling, twerking on car hoods in the middle of Memphis intersections and seemingly every close friend Glo could get to the shoot there to partake. It was an attainable kind of fun — no private jets, yachts, luxury cars or designer clothing, just orchestrating a moment out of what you have around you. The song advocates for women to prioritize restriction-free pleasure with their homegirls over being at the mercy of a dude whose loyalty is in question — a proven formula for many of the women in rap that have come before her. But most importantly, the song's motor is undeniable, going into overdrive within seconds of starting.

"F.N.F" got her a deal with her hometown hero Yo Gotti's CMG label, an endearing press tour, and a follow-up hit thanks to a Cardi B guest verse that'll make you wanna run through a wall. And recently, the song was nominated for Best Rap Performance at the 2023 Grammy Awards. It's been a steady incline for the hopeful superstar who just released her first mainstream project with a nine-track EP, Anyways, Life's Great..., capping off the kind of "rookie" year that few rappers have ever enjoyed. Part of what's helping to etch GloRilla so firmly into people's hearts is the way she shows her listeners how to celebrate through adversity — chin up instead of languishing — with an unwavering belief that s*** is gonna work itself out. Do you, and do it with an authoritative stance. "F.N.F" and "Tomorrow" embody that philosophy perfectly.

Though it feels like a mere sample of what's to come, Anyways, Life's Great... presents GloRilla as a singular voice using her instrument as a megaphone for provocation and inspiration. The rarity of her tone is obviously part of the appeal, but what makes it stick is the sharp cuts with which Glo uses it. There's a way that she snaps off the ending of her bars that drives the impact further into listeners' cores. She establishes her main points of emphasis: beefing with her exes' new tings is beneath her, she can handle her own dirty work, inconsiderate men won't be tolerated and, most importantly, having steadfast faith is sure to take you wherever you wanna be. (Shoutout to her government name being Gloria Hallelujah.) She hardly deviates from those, lyrically, but in energy, she's giving something different at almost every turn. "No More Love" recycles an idea that artists often express after their first taste of fame and fortune, left to shakily steer through personal relationships with a new layer of complications. Here, GloRilla weaves through recent burdens — envy within her circle, being let down by a guy she thought would be different and having to abort a child last year (which, as of 2022, is banned in her home state of Tennessee without exception) — with a measured, conversational approach. It's a different, more collected mode than "F.N.F," which is tucked near the end of this project for both the streaming and the power boost.

The breakout single is the only song on the project produced by Hitkidd, and he is missed elsewhere. There's been some documented disagreements over the ownership of "F.N.F" in recent weeks, which could explain why it's the only collaboration from the two here. That diminishes some of the magic that helped get GloRilla to this point. Hitkidd-produced songs like "F.N.F," "Set The Tone," "Ghetto" and "Hot Potato" possess a crunchy, hole-in-the-wall Memphis grit that Glo's new tape doesn't have — one straight from the school of early '90s Three 6 Mafia, filled with the type of dark keys and hi-hat hits that inspire on-the-spot jookin moves. Most of the production on Anyways, Life's Great... feels like it comes from a generic CMG vault for their entire roster. It lacks the distinctive regionality that made Glo special. The closest new thing to the Hitkidd sound is "Blessed," which does feature those crucial menacing keys, but falls well short in its lack of urgency, which is reflected in Glo's delivery.

Because of this beat disparity, the hits — "F.N.F" and "Tomorrow 2" — are still clearly the best tracks here, but there's an exciting three-song stretch in the EP's interior. The Acleff and Macaroni Toni-produced "Unh Unh" is similar in buoyancy, and repetitiveness, to Cardi B's "Up." The elastic bass begs to explode out of venue speakers and her voice here is more of a high-powered bark. The hook leads with a warning, "They don't wanna see no gangster b****** win / Well, the industry done f***** up lettin' these gangster b****** in / They say my fifteen minutes up, I'm only fifteen minutes in." Gotti appears on "Blessed," with a laidback approach that frames him more as Glo's peer than her boss, and, on the song, she urges that she's much more invested in giving the people hope than being involved in beef. "Get That Money" samples North Memphis luminary Project Pat's 2002 brawl-inciting "Shut Ya Mouth, Bitch" and Glo flips it into a book of principles for making sure men don't get the goods for free.

Memphis isn't typically mentioned in the conversation with other rap capitals but it should be. The momentum that acts like Three 6, Pat and 8Ball & MJG kicked off in the '90s is still going, and it's arguably stronger — or, at least, more widespread — than ever. The 2000s saw Gotti and the late Young Dolph rise, and the current wave of artists can attribute the city's success to the expansion of their respective imprints, CMG and Paper Route Empire. Through Gotti comes hit-machine and more-than-capable lyricist Moneybagg Yo, half-comedian half-rapper Blac Youngsta and BlocBoy JB whose career was launched with a Drake feature. Through Dolph comes slick-talking, flashy characters like Key Glock and Big Moochie Grape. Pooh Shiesty, and his friend Big 30, came into national recognition just a few years back, but wowed listeners with distinct handles on their rich drawls and their deployment of gruesome content. GloRilla, K Carbon, Big Gloss and others are the proper foils to those two, as they offer the female perspective of the same early-20s Memphis demographic. Glo's move past her counterparts is the product of natural development but also, in part, because she reaches listeners across gender boundaries in a way that other young women can't.

In a short-sighted assessment of her voice, delivery and style of dress, some perceive GloRilla as masculine, based on rigid binary thinking, and that has been used to both degrade her and pit her against peers on the national level. Some misogynists have upheld her as proof that women don't need to prioritize sex to be successful in hip-hop. For others, she is not feminine enough. But GloRilla comes from a legacy of Memphis women whose street prowess and propensity for violence always ran parallel with their femininity. Gangsta Boo has a song titled "Kill, Kill, Kill, Murder, Murder, Murder" while having others about her late night escapades. La Chat rapped about dismembering bodies and still screamed for someone to slob on her cat. Glo's music moves along similar paths. She raps casually about getting backshots on a hotel balcony, getting head from men who swear they don't give it and not befriending women whose partners she's hooked up with. She has a song called "Nut Quick," another shooting down a guy asking for her number and another where she raps, "He got 99 problems and the biggest one is me!" She isn't rising despite sexuality (or because of it); she's rising because she is able to balance many different things throughout a track. And if there is a most obvious space for growth it's that she could display her well-roundedness a bit more clearly.

Nonetheless, Anyways, Life's Great... is a solid introduction to bigger stages with higher stakes for GloRilla, and "F.N.F" being up for a Grammy will only push her further. What the tape affirms is that she is an energizer. She welcomes being framed as a source of inspiration, especially for people who come from similarly trying backgrounds. The more we learn about her, the more we see how quickly her life took a complete 360 with the success of "F.N.F" and how she has been manifesting that success ("Out Loud Thinking"). It's the rallying displayed in the title, pulled from a lyric in that song: the "anyway" pivot embodies her resilience. That's her superpower — that people home right now desperately looking for a breakthrough can see her and think to themselves, "I just gotta keep going"; that a great life is, in part, just a break away. So when she puts the passion behind that resounding voice throughout this project, it resonates deeply. And if GloRilla can continue harnessing that power to motivate, she could be a voice for her generation.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lawrence Burney
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