Detroit has slowly reserved a special place in my hip-hop heart. No matter how many rappers from that Midwest city I’ve been introduced, few have left me with a feeling of insignificance or passive devotion to their trade.
As stated many times before, rappers from Detroit (save for one) have the drive to flee from the harsh environment of their birth without getting rid of the fundamental values granted from existing in such a place: hard work, a keen grasp of one’s resources, and most importantly, an unwavering endurance.
FowL actually brought these criteria to the forefront for me. I heard his Black Milk-assisted “Ambassador Bridge” by chance on an NPR hip hop playlist and dug it instantly. The 18-year-old rapper had a strong, booming voice, a million gigawatts of energy, and a blazing love for his hometown.
A love which, of course, remained kindled due to hopes of going big with his talent in order to get out. His mixtape Live From the D, while also standing as a nice look for the fledgling artist, did in fact come with mistakes which only a newcomer could make, such as hedging his bets and crafting one too many love or “hey guys I can rap” songs, or being a little too ratchet on the adlibs.
His most recent mixtape, Tall Tale LP proves two things. FowL still has his rambunctious personality, plus a slightly inflamed ego to boot, and his simple, yet potent lyricism now comes with an easier flow that smooths out the rough patches.
Yet those periodic mishaps sort of add to the greater part of what this rapper is. At 20 years old, FowL has the blunt, carefree naivete of a urban teen while also developing a knowledge of the world around him; how some people actually care about his art, and how some just want to taste the milk and honey: “Just because you let me hit the weed, we ain’t friends,” he posits on “Worried About Me.” He’s not so much unsure of where he stands as much as he’s simply evolving into a more mature being.
The metamorphosis, so to speak, plays out in interesting ways. He begins with a nice panoramic introduction “Boyz N The Hood,” riding over modern boom-bap production with an easygoing, lean-back flow. FowL then gets really fresh on “Spark Up,” barking his verses, making them seem more hilarious than they are: “call child services/dog found murkin kids/I’m sparkin’ loud purple sticks, my dark lungs burnt to shit.” He even produces “Worried About Me;” his style leans too much on a single loop, but he sounds nice riding over it, and its nowhere near bland.
His growth as a rapper also results in tracks that benefit from a great amount of honesty, especially on “Momma,” a two-minute tribute with embarrassing but earnest tidbits of his grooming, “Detroit Riot” which has him addressing the under-appreciation of the area’s hip hop, and the project’s best record, “Letter To My (Younger) Self.” He retells the events that have happened in his recent life, such as dropping a basketball to rap professionally and being homeless for a month and , and really sells how time flew by in the most important time of his life so far.
But every once in a while he spits an awkward line on the intimate “In A Sense” (“take them panties off/bootie all jiggly” uuuuuuugh) or on the concentrate-of-Rick-Ross banger “Sweep” (“I read Malcolm X for inspiration, not the Bible.” So, strict religion and moral fortitude?) and he claims “Bitch I’m famous” when opening “Upside Down.” That hardly applies; maybe when I google “fowl” and your face pops up, and not a chicken.
Also, the only guest feature gives some explicitly generic bars, ruining the middle part of “Tables Turn.” These points down kill the mixtape or anything, but they certainly do weigh it down. I feel like he sometimes digs his talents to the point of no return, which only works if he’s telling a story, not when he’s simply stating “I’m a good rapper” in multiple slights of phrase.
And “Tall Tale LP” is still a resoundingly solid mixtape. FowL’s not afraid to be that loud dude from the hood bustin’ through and cracking jokes because that’s who he actually is, and it works in his favor for the most part. His music doesn’t have any “The Infamous”-esque ambitions or anything, but he still maintain an air of honesty about how rough his side of Detroit can get, and uses that to pushes toward more palatable digs. I can respect that.