Sheck Wes Credit: courtesy the artist

Harlem rapper Sheck Wes became one of rap’s biggest rookies this year thanks to the sleeper hit “Mo Bamba,” a rager about his childhood friend Mohamed “Mo” Bamba, the Orlando Magic center. Sheck released it in 2017, one of the few early cuts that showcase the volcanic energy that eventually made him a breakout name. But he doesn’t share the enthusiasm of his growing fan base for one of those songs: “I hate ‘Live Sheck Wes,’” he told Pitchfork in July. “People get lost in the energy and not my message. I’m talking about some shit!” He’s right, and not just in the case of that track, on which he raps about growing up in Harlem’s Saint Nicholas Homes projects. To hear what he’s trying to convey, you just need to get past the screamed verses and blaring and sparse instrumentals. You also need to ignore the Big Hype—including the cheerleading from Kanye, who signed Sheck to GOOD Music this year, and Travis Scott, who signed Sheck to his Cactus Jack label last year. (Scott’s mammoth recent Astroworld also includes Sheck, and on the new single “Sicko Mode” Drake references Sheck.) On “Jiggy on the Shits,” from Sheck’s debut album, October’s Mudboy (GOOD/Cactus Jack/Interscope), there’s also language to consider: he raps in Wolof, the native tongue of his Senegalese parents. At age 17, his mother sent him from his home in the U.S. to Touba in central Senegal to study Islam, and the song is as much an homage to his roots as it is a testimony to his teenage rebelliousness, which convinced her to send him abroad. Sheck’s fury keeps Mudboy afloat through its most bloated moments, and it can be a distraction, particularly when it comes to his favorite shouted ad lib: “bitch.” Sheck litters Mudboy with the word, which he suggests he doesn’t use derogatorily on “Gmail.” But sometimes he screams it with a hint of mischievousness that suggests he knows he’s crossing a line, and he’s OK with letting listeners sort out the gray area for themselves.   v