Pop and electronic producer Zedd sent rap Twitter into a frenzy after he assessed Sheck Wes’ breakout hit, 'Mo Bamba', with an air of condescension still too common for those outside the ever-growing breadth of the hip-hop zeitgeist. Listing a lack of “melody, chords, structure, [and] lyrics” as to why the song didn’t meet his standards, he entirely missed the point of not just one single, but a genre at large that subverts popular music by synthesizing the very elements that make it tick. 'Mo Bamba' is the epitome of that forward-thinking approach as its deceptively simple structure enlists all of the attributes from Zedd’s checklist to make a sound whose impact is impossible to quantify. Its ice-cream truck synth loop serves as a hypnotic melodic base, it’s immaculately structured to maximize gratification, and Sheck comandeers the entirety of the production with a staggering presence, both in aggressive cadence and endlessly quotable bars that are impactful with each and every word. There’s no more fitting description for 'Mo Bamba' than a masterclass in modern, popular music.

With a career-defining single as his debut, Sheck has naturally been left to contend with lofty expectations. While a knee-jerk reaction involves pondering whether or not he can deliver another hit, the New York rapper has taken a step back and appraised his artistic potential in the context of a full-length album. Bucking the trend of a star-studded debut so that listeners understand “what I do, rather than who I know,” as Sheck explains, he leaves his creative merits to bare. It’s a bold approach in an age where household features are currency that generate the streaming machine until they’re converted into statistical hits, but it’s also an admitted risk as one must ask themself if Sheck’s talents warrant a full batch of solo material.

That being said, there’s no longer a need to hypothesize with the arrival of Sheck’s all-encompassing debut: MUDBOY. Clocking in at a daunting (well, perhaps not for rap fiends) 49 minutes, he strips hip-hop down to its very core and builds it back up over the album’s runtime (spoiler alert: to thrilling results). Opening track 'Mindfucker' is quintessential as its crisp, incisive beat paves the way for Sheck to deliver an exercise in swagger that’s owed to a hitched, stop-and-start flow where lyrics range from vague boasts to sizzling braggadocio as he proclaims, “You niggas watchin' me, I watch the throne like Jay-Z/I still ain't take an L 'til a nigga spray me/If you got some shit to say, then say that shit to me.” The previously released 'Chippi Chippi' provides another stellar standout as a brooding synth slithers atop minimalist trap production. Most of its content is tantalizing window dressing, but Sheck delivers one of the album’s lucid moments as he pontificates, “Hell to paradise like my nigga Franck Sinner/Never used to eat, I was eatin' sleep for dinner.” There’s not an abundance of contemplation on an album grounded in hazy depictions of widespread flexing, but it makes those points even sweeter when they do arise.

The main point of concern with MUDBOY prior to its release, as previously mentioned, was its runtime, but a sense of fatigue never arrives. 'Kyrie' is a punchy anthem that serves as the album’s dynamic fulcrum point and is a natural successor to the basketball grounding of 'Mo Bamba'; late dweller 'Jiggy on the Shits' is a menacing, understated track with street-hit potential that channels the best of A$AP Mob’s peak; and album closer 'Vetements Socks' is a sonic victory lap, triumphant production and all. From front to back, there’s a particular charm to each and every cut on MUDBOY that threads them together into a cohesive body of work, Sheck’s signature “bitch!” adlib serving as the proverbial icing on the cake.

Sheck masterfully transcends one-hit-wonder status throughout his debut, and with results like these, New York’s rapidly evolving upper echelon may soon have a new addition to its ranks as he fits comfortably between punk-rock ethos of Playboi Carti and the bombast of Cardi B on MUDBOY.