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“I’m Him” by Joe West

This year’s underground has been offering up some of the most intriguing new hip-hop in a generation-plus, and among the more beat-charged efforts that I’ve heard out of the genre’s storied underground circuit on the west coast comes from none other than Joe West. West is a New York-born rising star on the scene, but his new single, “I’m Him,” is a provocative, chicly-mixed banger seemingly tailor-made for the gritty landscape that mainstream rap has become in the last couple of years in the NYC metro area. It didn’t take me much more than a cursory listen to not only understand what all of the hype surrounding this single has been about but to get onto the bandwagon myself.   

One thing that I notice right off the bat in “I’m Him” is the fact that there aren’t any bombastic elements inserted into the front of the mix – there are just muscular melodies and a whole lot of panache coming from behind the mic courtesy of West. The rhythm is medium-rare, and there’s a possible argument to be made that this is one of the only tracks to emerge from the shadows of New York in 2023 not steeped in groove-centric verses.   Every element in this song gets its share of the spotlight, and there’s never an occasion on which we feel like West is pitting one part of a harmony against another in some quest for sonic supremacy inside of a three-minute rap single. 

As strong an alternative sound as “I’m Him” has, there’s no denying the understated east coast energy that our leading man is bringing into the booth with him in this track. Raised in what is arguably New York City’s most musical underground scene, it would be next to impossible for Joe West to have come out of his hometown without bearing a couple of similarly swaggering moves that his forerunners once championed some thirty years ago. Above everything else, I like that I’m not able to easily pin this guy down as being a west coast/east coast rapper – he’s too unique an individual, and more pressingly, too talented an artist, for me to even consider placing him into some prepped category shared by players with half the talent he’s got. 

Only time will tell for certain, but based on what I’m hearing in this song, I think that it’s safe to say we can expect a lot of good things from Joe West in the future. He’s steering clear of a lot of the eccentricities that have relegated his contemporaries to insular markets with little chance of ever appealing to anyone else, and by adhering to a conventional pop framework in “I’m Him,” he’s maximizing his reach as a rapper and as a songwriter, which is something that I would like to see his younger brethren try sometime. With a slight nudge into the limelight of the New York stage, this artist is going to be off and running as though he were born to shape this next chapter in pop culture history. 

Mindy McCall  



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