By Jamie Deliz
Published: May 17th, 2017
There must be a full moon out there, because “It’s Really A Wolf” will drive you crazy.
Embedded in Russ’ debut album are the perplexing emotions of love, hate, and anger, confronted by the Atlanta rapper’s bold confidence and sharp storytelling clawing right at you, basically telling you to “get the f*ck over it, and do you.”
What the one-man rapper—rather, “the best kept secret”— has here is pure rarity. And what this album has is spirit, drive, and tenacity, like the howler himself. For nearly two years, Russ hid from the mainstream music scene, releasing self-made mixtapes and self-made songs like “Pull The Trigger,” and charters like “What They Want” and “Losin Control” off his SoundCloud (which made it on “There’s Really A Wolf”); and not until last year did he sign with Colombia Records.
Of course, there’s something to be said about his natural talent, along with other rappers who have written, produced, and engineered their own music. It creates an experience unlike any other. “There’s Really A Wolf” incorporates old and new original tracks, from the start of his artistry to now—the true beginning of his career.
Every bit of Russ is laced into all 20 tracks, with absolutely no features. It’s only fitting, since he’s telling his story his way, while confronting those who have doubted him in the past.
“Was in the shadows for so long/I deserve all my shine,” is an example of just that, and can be heard in his opener, “I’m Here.” Rather than the usual track-by-track self-journey experience, Russ is giving it to us straight up—with a side of arrogance—but it so works. He’s already figured himself out, and that strength on this album, and in hip-hop in general, is essential. With a punch and a kick to the “haters” and fake friends, Russ responds with “Act Now.” And with determination and self-belief, he comes swinging in with “Got This,” and “Do It Myself,” which was also a song that was part of his earlier releases: “I don’t need him/ I don’t need her/ f*ck it, I’ll do it myself.”
Sure, he does it himself—everything—from playing the piano to showcasing his unique vocals. Much of that can be appreciated in “I Wanna Go Down With You,” a trance-like ballad of sorts that incorporates echoes, soft beats, and “talk-singing.” “Scared” and “Losin Control,” Russ’ honest approaches to love, are like those intangible feelings of realization coming to greet you, slowly sweeping you up from right under, until you feel the painful blows to the chest. While “Scared” comes from a more personal place, “Losin Control” comes “from a hurt place.” The idea of love being so detrimental to this figurative girl is what makes the song a thing of beauty: she’s found someone, but she’s too afraid to fall. These common themes of trust, inconsolability, and trying all over again are heightened by the rapper’s swift ability with wordplay and thought-provoking metaphors, which flow like another thing of beauty throughout other tracks like “Cherry Hill,” “Ride Slow” and “Back To You.”
Of course, there’s more to it. If there is one thing Russ can do, it is dropping a catchy beat on any emotional, headstrong song—minus “One More Shot,” a knockoff version of Drake’s “One Dance” opener. Songs like “Don’t Lie,” an ode to old school and reggae-fusion influences, and “No Turning Back,” are bumpers. And if you really want some old school, it’s “Emergency,” “MVP” and “Me You” that’ll kick it to you. “Me You” is a testament to who Russ is, and it’s one of the best songs on the album. Whether you take it as Russ being overly cocky or not, one thing remains clear: whatever you put into your work will show in the end. And you will really be convinced. “Thank you to anyone who ever slammed the door on me/Because of you, I did it myself, so it means more to me/Did so many free shows and now they can’t afford me/No one gave a f*ck and now the whole world’s recordin’ me.”
“There’s Really A Wolf” is an inspirational album, teaching you to never give up on whatever it is you want to pursue. Yet, it also teaches you to balance your humility with your rewards. “The Stakeout” and “Family & Friends” are there to remind you. Never forget where you came from, and never forget who was there with you along the way.
“There’s Really A Wolf” isn’t just for Russ; it’s for all of us. So don’t be afraid to look up at the moon every so often.