• Courtesy of On The Grind Management
  • YP

The final track on YP’s brand-new BackWood Jones mixtape begins with a blunt, somber line: “Hopefully I don’t die.” It sounds like a child is singing the hook, and the gentle voice makes YP’s stark look at drug dealing on “Hopefully” even more unsettling than it otherwise would have been. YP burrows into the world of a street hustler pushing a pharmacy of illegal drugs, and his frank, evenhanded bars shine light on a protagonist headed towards darkness. YP’s performance is great, but that tender voice on the chorus is a striking reminder of just how young some corner kids are and just how quickly they can lose their innocence.

“Hopefully” is the grimmest entry on BackWood Jones, and as an end point its heavy tone unintentionally bleeds into the world of its creator. Last week some members of YP’s family were taken hostage in Harvey, and shortly before that his infant son, Kaiden, passed away. Kaiden was born in February, and he gave YP the kick in the pants that fueled his strong performances on BackWood Jones. In fact YP lays it out pretty clearly just a minute into the opening track, “Winner’s Circle,” when he raps, “I was broke and used my kid as the motivation.”

YP’s new inspiration would be obvious even if he didn’t say it outright. He’s the kind of nimble, confident MC who sounds like he’s admiring his raps while he’s in the middle of delivering the lines. But some of the best moments on BackWood Jones come not when YP is enamored by his own work but when he sounds determined to push himself harder—every time he throws down a pointed syllable at just the right moment or raps in double-time it’s as if he’s fighting for someone else.

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Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.