Ras Nebyu—-best described as a young version of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie smoking a blunt while waiting for the 70 bus on Georgia Avenue—-understands the importance of patience and detail when crafting a project. At the tail end of last week, the 22-year-old D.C. rapper released his delayed sophomore mixtape, Ras Griffin lll, named in honor of the Washington football team’s quarterback. At 10 songs, clocking in at just under an hour, the follow-up to 2012’s Babylon’s Most Wanted is the perfect length, offering a concise collection of music that showcases the rapper’s fierce intellect over laidback tunes.
Born to an Ethiopian father and an African-American mother in the melting pot of Northwest D.C., Nebyu brings a dual consciousness to the mic. The same way that Top Dawg Entertainment’s Ab-Soul can talk about conspiracy theories and Actavis in the same verse, Nebyu can speak to Rastafarianism, sports, and the city’s changing culture with a mellow dexterity.
Speaking of mellow vibes, they’re a consistent musical theme throughout the project, as he raps about how various ills—-from poor diet to an addiction to television—-are destroying minds and communities over the understated bounce of the opening track, “Strong Soul”: “If it’s not by the gun, then the poison surely get us/The food that we eatin’ to the fuckin’ television” he rhymes, before explaining that an aversion to “artificial knowledge” is why he left college. He further expounds upon his rebellious spirit on “Queens,” rhyming “I got a problem with authority/That’s why the rebels always be supporting me.” Meanwhile, “Slizzatrism” is another ode to his school of thought delivered over a hypnotic groove featuring King Matho and curated by The Arckitech. Ras also has a strong appreciation for women. “Libey,” “Uptown Lady Lover” and the aforementioned “Queens” are tributes to the natural, radiant beauty of womankind.
The project places Nebyu’s inviting wisdom and maturity at its forefront. Ras Griffin lll demonstrates an improved approach to the rapper’s objectives: teaching, empowering, and making good music. The only flaw that stands out is the frequent use of 808s on too many tracks. Still, Ras Nebyu’s name has been respected within the DMV hip-hop scene since the release of his debut, and Ras Griffin lll should be the end of all anonymity for the rapper on a local scale. The timing of its release is perfect, as it comes just weeks before his appearance at the Trillectro music festival, which should serve as a national springboard for his career.
Overall, Ras Griffin lll is well worth the wait. Stream it below.
Photo by James Davis Wilson