Chicago rapper Goody first caught my ear two years ago with a couple Soundcloud tracks that demonstrated his natural gift for setting a mood. On the single “All I Know” he sounds headstrong but touched by tragedy, and his lyrics combine triumph and regret: “I took stress and pain and whipped it to cocaine and cut it up, and now I’m giving you my lifeline.” The song’s invigorating instrumental plasters together slow-motion synths and blurred vocal samples, underlining the fact that not everything he raps about can be connected to a clearly defined emotion.

Goody had intended to drop his debut full-length in 2014, shortly after “All I Know,” though he turned out to need a little more time—he finally released that mixtape, 21 (to Anyone), last week. I’m drawn to those songs where Goody evokes feelings that are hard to pin down but doesn’t clobber you over the head with them. “Rollin” kicks off by confronting a binary that many rappers have to confront when they try to define themselves: “Not another backpack, put my city on the map, rap ass nigga / Not another I be in the trap all day counting racks ass nigga.” There’s a relatable irritation in his delivery—even if you’ve never considered picking up a mike and rapping, you can probably relate to being forced into one of two inflexible categories and feeling like neither is a good option. On 21 (to Anyone) Goody doesn’t fall into either pigeonhole—what he’s doing is hard to sum up, and he’s better off for it.
Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.