G. Herbo spits the shit that penetrates your chest like the fierce, rattling winds of the Alps. His voice is shockingly baritone, sharp and perceptive ; back when he shouted his rhymes with barbaric angst, he might have been responsible for a decimated car speaker, or two. His Drill-adjacent roots saw him a violent maestro of his fate, weaving the streets he occupied into his harsh music seamlessly. But in recent years, he’s shed that hardcore image for one that’s refined, far from soft. Lil Herb became G. Herbo, emphasis on the G. “G in my neighborhood don’t mean like ‘G,’ like gangster. It means, like general, you get respect,” he revealed in an interview with HipHopWired.
Collaborating with Southside of 808 Mafia for their joint project Swervo marks a more commercial turn for G Herbo that’s immediately welcomed. Southside is one of the game’s more respectable producers that’s been largely responsible for the Sasquatch-sized imprint that Atlanta’s left in the rap game. His productions are loud, mostly silky, but sometimes brutish, ensnaring the listener in an abundance of, well, 808 synths. Being that Herbo’s from a more trap-friendly, soulful lane, embracing the Atlanta aesthetic is a huge move for him and his brand. It’s one that ultimately pays off, with Swervo being an ambitious, rousing crossover work that captures G Herbo’s growing creative, and emotional, maturity.
Swervo’s cover is a near identical recreation of Eric B and Rakim’s Follow The Leader that breathed fire into the period immediately before rap’s Golden Age. Follow The Leader was the legendary duo’s second studio album, released in 1988, that expanded the palette of sounds for Rakim to slyly deliver his debonair raps. As huge as it is in the genre, G Herbo and Southside having the moxie to channel the aesthetic of the album and release it act damn near the same time means that they were assured of their abilities. That confidence shines like an iPhone’s flashlight searing holes in your eyes as you stare at it. Opener “Some Nights” is a fast, vicious train race that G Herbo dominates as the horn signaling a stop on the horizon. He speaks to the misplaced kids on the street that have no clue what they’re facing if they were to ever get ensnared by the long arm of the law. Herbo bellows his experiences without a hint of contempt, realizing that the only way to get through skulls as thick as his was years ago, is to give them the information straight without any excessive bullshit. Southside’s production perfectly suits the occasion for some world-altering revelations.
A past of bullets and bloodshed haunts the horizon of Swervo beneath the glitz and glamour. G. Herbo’s clearly dealing with the mental repercussions of swimming through adolescence while wading in pools of blood, so his tortured psyche exposes itself whenever he reflects on it. Like in the opener, G Herbo roars on “How I Grew Up.” “Fourteen we was young as fuck, already done fucked shit up/Coming up no fear in us, we ready to kill somethin,” he screams dejectedly, conflicted by the vibrance in which he dives into his youth. 21 Savage stays away from the life that he led prior to his current one of luxe, and his verse is all the more better for it. He manages to brighten the proceedings up some, bringing a semblance of balance.
Sometimes, the best grape juice is the type that comes from the farm. Farmers remove their boots and socks and mash the grapes, in giant containers, with their bare feet. While unsanitary, it became one of the origins of the phrase “put my foot into it,” meaning that some hard work, possibly unsanitary, went into the creation of whatever is better than normal. Southside put his foot into the production here. “Catch Up” is infected with repeating piano riffs that are as frightening as they are loud. “Tweakin” is a much more muted affair, quietly whispering its instrumentation while a hi-hat crashes in the forefront. “Pac n Dre”‘s futuristic trappings sound at home in Blade Runner 2049‘s long horizon tracking shots. Southside’s versatility means that no two beats sound the same. He really shows out here. As much of a show as this is for Herbo, it’s also a defining moment of Southside as well.
“Honesty” is the album’s highlight because of the complete switch-up it brings. G Herbo’s slightly-melodic vocals do wonders for the poignant piano production that plays in the background. The real heft of the song comes from Juice WRLD ‘s phlegmatic singing which sounds like a long, extended sigh. It adds a nice emotional element to the song’s style that makes it a captivating listen every time it comes up.
The lasting effect of the album’s message is that G Herbo comes to terms with the violence that permeated his past and moves on to accept his present. Barbarity probably accounts for thirty percent of the content here. He dances around it for the sake of familiarity and then jumps into generating the feels about his emotions, or lack of. He’s a father now, and, if social media is any indicator, he’s in a much happier space. You can feel the delightful energy radiate from the explosive production that constantly wiggles and reforms as Southside moves to recapture G Herbo in his best angle. Whether you buy into the new and improved G Herbo is ultimately up to your perceived connotation of him. But, what is clear, is that G Herbo and Southside have put their feet into Swervo. Sorry, I knew I wanted to use that joke again.