Back in 2006, an unsigned Brooklyn rapper named Troy Ave, barely out of his teens, appeared on BET's "Rap City" with a video for "Rep It With My Heart"/"BK, BK", a promising take on the "trap music" styling of Atlanta kingpins du jour, Young Jeezy and T.I.. After that brief peak, Troy Ave was swept unceremoniously back into the rat race of MCs on the cusp. Undeterred by his failure to launch, he never stopped releasing music, and the past three years alone have brought his superb Bricks in My Backpack series. Ave has consistently improved with every instalment, reaching a head with latest release, Bricks in My Backpack 3: The Harry Powder Trilogy; the kind of street album against which early fans will one day measure his inevitable major-label debut.
If you couldn't tell by the tape's namesake, Troy Ave raps about selling drugs from an early age, and often. But he does so in a way that seems far more grounded then his white yacht, white linen, white girl-touting drug-rap contemporaries. He paints himself as Brooklyn's Marlo Stanfield, a young hustler who's found local success to be so empowering that he can't be made to care about what's going on in the greater scope of the game. Fittingly, he's allotted guest spots almost exclusively to fellow New Yorkers: Action Bronson,Fabolous, and Avon Blocksdale. Ave is everything history tells us a Brooklyn rapper should be: clever, intuitive, smart-alecky, and relaxed. He references the most obvious cool-kid touchstones (the NBA, Basquiat, Young Jeezy), but makes it a point to thicken up his verses with vivid imagery, like the "hustlers who wear shorts under they jeans." He can put a proper song together, and raps the way someone with an alleged drug-dealing history as extensive as his own ought to.
BIMB3 is well-sequenced, something too many tapes are missing. "Lord as My Witness" is heroic, built on a sappy organ loop with drill-team snare pops. The song itself is a shimmering example of dope-boy repentance, the chorus declaring, "Where I'm from they don't give much, so I take mines and get paid/ Lord as my witness, as I bow my head and I pray/ Father forgive us, please keep the Feds away." The tape's lead single, "Cokeamania", is more snarling, and threatens to "shoot a nigga out they muthafuckin' shoes," sounding deviant in that way rappers do when they promise the kind of violence they'll never deliver. "Snow" is Ave detailing his coke dealing exploits over a soft xylophone riff that could've been pulled from an old Stax ballad. He's paired drug dealing with a sonic elegance it really shouldn't know. His wry sense of humor sees him singing a wounded Tracy Chapman-like refrain about there being "no business like snow business."
Later in the tape, Ave returns to grabbing his crotch in front of the bodega with "N W Yay". Over fluttering synths from producer Vokaron, he and Blocksdale warn of their wrath, likening their attitudes to the forefathers of urban angst, N.W.A. For "Nightmare on Fed Street", Ave adopts a bouncier flow for a song that sounds like Freddy Krueger's soundtrack for cleaning blood off his Air Jordans. The album's closer, "Free Base", is just "BK, BK", the track that fills the second half of his 2006 BET video, coming full circle.
To date, Brooklyn has known Herculean talents the likes of the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z, and in a more modern sense, Fabolous. Fittingly, these are artists who've rapped their way out of obscurity trading on technical ability rather than the oft-referenced diversionary tactic that is swagger. Troy Ave is cut from this same cloth but has yet to find footing in his own time. The generational gap in Brooklyn's rap scene means there's a place free for a highly territorial young artist like Troy Ave. Bricks in My Backpack 3: The Harry Powder Trilogy shows off the voice Brooklyn deserves.