The Lowdown: In this winner-take-all economy, the owner class is shrinking faster than you can read a foreclosure notice. Yet, Polo G’s talent for quivery, upwardly inflected sing-rapping made him a homeowner. He has a backyard. He can come and go as he pleases. No more agonizing wait times at apartment security checkpoints; no more having to dodge the prying eyes of too-inquisitive neighbors.
On his sophomore album, The Goat, Polo G — who was raised in a squat brick mid-rise on Chicago’s Near North Side or, as he calls it, “the zoo” — marvels at his sudden freedom of movement. But he’s restless and slightly remorseful in his new life. Privacy is one of those benefits that redounds down to the upper, petty bourgeois. As long as his friends on Sedgwick Street are still living under state surveillance (I can think of no gentler term), Polo can’t be happy.
The Good: Polo’s previous album, Die a Legend, was meticulously crafted but unrousably lethargic; all the beats sounded hungover. The Goat has more pep in its step. The lachrymose funeral hymns are here to stay — they’re as much a part of Polo’s identity as his tattoos, which reveal a serious black history buff — but now they’re jockeying for position. Now they’re competing side by side with relatively beatific songs like “Flex”, featuring Juice WRLD.
While not the bloodiest census tract in Chicago, the Near North Side is bloody enough for Polo to have become fluent in biblical nomenclature. When he describes his fallen homie ascending a flight of “white stairs,” it’s clear the rapper has spent a lot of time leafing through funeral pamphlets and listening to gravelly sermons. And Polo is a good eulogist himself, able to wring considerable mileage out of a few well-placed words. “Why I can’t just pull up to your crib and see you right there?” he sniffles on the wrenching “I Know”.
The Bad: Polo isn’t completely blackpilled. The Goat includes a handful of encomiums to young love, including “Beautiful Pain” and the blissfully kinky, slide guitar-stoked “Martin & Gina”. (Monogamy can run counter to the ethos of hip-hop, but Polo is happily taken; his girlfriend co-starred in the video for last year’s “Mrs. Capalot”.) He doesn’t expound too deeply on his predilection for figure-hugging sundresses, though. Seven times out of 10, Polo is in full Eeyore mode, rapping single-mindedly about gun violence and its underdiagnosed attendant, PTSD. It’s all a little overwhelming.
Polo has no sense of humor. In fairness to the man, though, you may chuckle at his piteous matter-of-factness: “I can’t feel affection,” he states blankly.
The Verdict: Young PMCs flock to Chicago’s North Side. How couldn’t they? There are castle-like graystones to renovate, falafel joints and bohemian-chic brewpubs to be patronized. But destitution, violence, and unaccountable surveillance lurk underneath this façade, cultivated over 20 or 30 years, of prosperity.
Polo G escaped that mid-rise on Sedgwick. Some of his friends likely never will. If nothing else, The Goat gives voice to a generation of invisible North Siders for whom church is useless because “the preacher can’t stop them poles from clappin’.”
Essential Tracks: “Flex”, “I Know”, and “Wishing for a Hero”