Bub Styles: Outerwear SZN 3 Album Review

As suburbs fall prey to Bloomberg-era economic politics, New Yorkers have seen their city become a parking lot for foreign capital, a disposable toy for the millionaire class. Chinatown Sound, a video series from Brooklyn rapper Bub Styles, is a testament to reserves and leftovers. Each installment features a lone rapper rhyming a cappella on a sidewalk in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood. The format obviates the rap battle element of most freestyle displays, and the surroundings of the last ethnic enclave downtown lend solemnity to the nightlife. Styles highlights a wide range of artists: Black, Dominican, Nuyorican, and Jewish artists from all five boroughs and beyond, but their similarities are striking. Despite their different origins, they share many of the same mannerisms, intricate dress codes, and regional speech. Wordy and wacky as they are, the subtext speaks volumes: These are the last men standing.

“Imitation of the Rappers You Idolize”, the end of Styles’ latest tape Outerwear SZN 3, reflects the ethos of Chinatown Sound. Fellow Brooklyn ARXV raps the opening verse, their couplets like schoolyard taunts: “You’re all just knockoffs of the men you idolize / Rockin’ all that Gucci and Dior, but your outfit lies.” He rhymes in complete sentences, stopping randomly in the absence of strong percussion, the understated production accentuating his slang and inflection. Styles’ verse, on the other hand, is delivered in a primal roar: “I just popped two triple stacks like they were Advils / Every meal I ate this week was worth the weight of an anvil.” His voice comes with an underground rumble, like echoes from an abandoned IRT tunnel.

Outerwear SZN 3 it’s a raunchy triumph of tri-state genre work, its compulsive-trafficking narratives embellished with a flashy palette. In “Buckfast,” Styles contrasts designer brands and luxury cars with the squalor of dollar stores. “Smoke Box,” his portrayal of a vengeful kingpin, concludes with the exhausted con man ensconced in a 2006 Nissan Maxima, rolling up his own product. Wealth and sleaze come crashing down in a collage of New Era skintights, greasy cold cuts and paneled North Face jackets. If he can’t get over his circumstances, he might as well buy new Foamposites.

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It is emblematic of the construction of the world of Styles that so many references (the brands, the jargon, the shoes) are 20 or 30 years old. Still Outerwear SZN 3 it is not so much nostalgic as it is suggestive of an empire in decline. Styles meets his neighbors with hostile disdain (“Shit, I’ll put a hole in your diaphragm/Dog, it looks like you’re only glaring on your diet, man”); he boasts of a portly physique, proof positive of a self-made man. If his personality is larger than life, a corner dealer with Scarface ambitions, a loud mouth and cheeky wardrobe, he’s satire of the post-Nems, post-Action Bronson variety. Distorted or toned down as they are, the hallmarks of the Giuliani era endure as recognizable shorthand, and Styles translates them into a grim and grandiose lexicon.

Finn, Ace Fayce and Revenxnt’s downtempo arrangements balance Styles’ menace with a more evocative elegance. His supervillain voice covers heavy drums and ominous basslines on “Lights Out” and “Glockcoma,” while “Smoke Box” and “Cumbia in Cooley High” spell out aggression with blazing jazz loops. Clocking in at just under 90 seconds, “Holiday” breaks the beat with a double-time showcase. As Styles runs through his verses, producer Brassxbeard layers the instrumentals, isolating the snarling vocals and centering Styles in the middle of the edgy production.

Outerwear SZN 3The success of ‘s lies in its take on the genre’s mainstays, an insularity that borders on the inscrutable. However, even its hyperbolic elements, the brutality of the pit bull, the pomp of the grown man, speak of a systemic selection of local tradition. When a cultural capital is subsumed by speculators, when ornate stonework gives way to steel and fiberglass, survival becomes a matter of marking territory. Where mid-’90s opera classics like Mobb Deep hell on earth and of Onyx All we have is us Dramatizing the lawlessness of precincts left to fend for themselves, Styles’ most striking work begs a follow-up question: What happens when a city decides to take back its streets?

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