Few young rappers are as explicitly vulnerable as Kari Faux. Born Kari Johnson, Faux shines brightest when leaning into her deepest emotions, and on her previous mixtape, Lost en Los Angeles, she connected harder the deeper she dug. On her latest project, Primary, Faux peels back even more layers, discussing the scheming of her lovers in an uncompromising world and the mounting pressures she experiences as her career continues upward.

Despite this, Primary feels warmer and lighter than many of Kari Faux’s other records, and more confident. Faux stands out from her peers, with her appealingly natural presence. Technically, she’s phenomenal: she revs up almost off-handed, like she’s jumping rope, and she shifts in and out of her singing voice seamlessly. She has stayed consistent with her compelling ’90s inspired flow, complex wordplay, and playful lyrics in this new project where she elaborates on the complexities of success, relationships, and identity that many twenty-somethings experience.

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Instead of an EP with a big banging single, Faux offers a looping, obsessively focused experience, with her words providing structure and the pulsing instrumentation coming second. Faux got here unleashing her flows, hunkering down into back-loaded rhyme schemes and pressing her weight into them. But stylistically she’s becoming independent of those sounds, adding more variety to her game and finding a voice that is distinctly her own. Jerry Paper, Matt Martians, and Lord Narf bless a few tracks on the seven-song EP that she entirely recorded, mixed and mastered on her own.

Primary is a lighthearted retelling of the journey from youthful insecurity through to hard-earned confidence (“Used to try to impress them but now, I just don't give a fuck”), with a nod to the experiences and people that helped shape her along the way. She has a rare confidence that’s rooted in her playfulness: “Might even find a cutie, might even just fuck someone,” she gloats on “Facetious,” a song with watery snares and a glitchy melody. Here, the rapper rhymes about not wanting to talk things out and purposely missing a cheating lover’s call. Her tone then switches on “Maybe, One Day,” where the frustration with overcoming broken promises takes precedence to talking issues out. Her willingness to embody the totality of her experience on record feels defiant and brave in an industry that tries to shrink artists into marketable boxes. Primary seesaws in this way, but the presentation is both honest and necessary: Women can, at once, be audacious and vulnerable, sexy and nerdy—the former doesn’t cheapen the latter.

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Faux seems engaged with the naysayers—"Will I make a million being myself? Ain't no tellin'/ But fuck what they market if ain't no soul in what they sellin'," she says—but her real fight is within herself. At 24, she raps with a shape-shifting hardness and ragged sense of spiritual exploration. “Lowkey” is as sunny as it when it originally came out on Insecure earlier this summer. But now it’s joined by 6 other tracks that hit on the same energy: it feels good to be a young woman, but it’s even better to be smart enough to appreciate how fleeting that feeling is. It’s her perspective as a black woman, a 'regular' woman, from Little Rock, Arkansas that makes this project transgressive. Faux is by no means flawless, but she swaggers with an unflinching certainty that one doesn’t have to be perfect to win.

The emotions on the tape—joy, doubt, yearning— are never better expressed than in two questions she poses: “Why are you callingggg?” and “What do they all think of you now?” Just like everything else on Primary, the essential substance is just there, a cocked eyebrow and a meaningful pause from someone who’s confident enough to put it all out there in her own way and allow you a minute to catch up. Primary plays like an open notebook filled with scrawlings in pencil: scattered thoughts on quarter-life crises, cross-country identity quests, and anxiety-filled relationships, all elegantly phrased over hazy, digital soul productions from the likes of Matt Martians, MeLo-X, and Kari herself.

Listen to Primary below, and get tickets to see her join Syd for the East Coast leg of her tour.