In the summer of 2020, the freak show that is Flint’s street rap scene blossomed. Three of the city’s landmark rap songs dropped within the span of a few months, all featuring the scene’s signature blend of depraved, punchline-driven comedy and unorthodox delivery. The tracks in question were YN Jay and Louie Ray’s “Coochie,” Rio Da Yung OG and Louie Ray’s “Movie,” and BFB Da Packman’s team-up with out-of-towner Sada Baby on “Free Joe Exotic.” Just a year later, things started to slow down, as Rio, the nucleus of the movement, began a five-year prison sentence. In the years since, there have been noteworthy tracks and mixtapes here and there, but without its defining star, the scene started to splinter, and its energy floundered.
Enter Babyfxce E. During Flint’s big summer of 2020, he was a freshly minted high school grad who hadn’t yet stepped into a recording booth. Last year, seemingly overnight, he became his hometown’s newest ambassador with a run of singles backed by sharp wisecracks and wordplay. While the bars are colorful, Babyfxce lacks an identifiable vocal presence. The competition is tough: He has to contend with local staples like RMC Mike, who sounds like he gargles whiskey instead of mouthwash, and KrispyLife Kidd, who can always make jaws drop. In a city full of borderline cartoon characters, Babyfxce is a smooth talker. That quality has turned him into a solid flagbearer for the Flint rap sound, as his less abrasive—and by extension less exciting—take on the style is easier for the uptight music world to digest.
On Babyfxce E’s newest project, The X Tape, he leans into that role. It’s tight and barely over 30 minutes, heavy on what made this era of Flint pop: the shit talk. E’s got that down, with an active imagination that produces some twistedly funny one-liners. He cracks jokes at your debt (“I did made more money in this rap shit than your student loans” on “Rich Talking”), and dreams up absurd scenarios where he gets freaky with a pregnant woman and wonders if he just went too deep. (We need to enroll him in a sex ed course, pronto.) He’s at his best when he doesn’t waste too much time on the hook, and locks into a zone where each subsequent punchline amplifies the intensity. The pummeling “Chicken Little” is a good example: As the crackling beat escalates, the bars start flying faster. Or take the 40-yard dash “Hot Outside”; in a thrilling three-second rush toward the end of the song, it feels like his verse is about to end. Instead, he catches his breath and finds a second gear.
The X Tape is missing more moments like that. Too often, punchlines get buried because Babyfxce delivers them as if he’s reading from a teleprompter. It makes you appreciate the power of all of the vocal tics that more established Flint rappers have: their dramatic pauses for emphasis, their way of slipping in and out of tangents, and their ability to turn three or four bars into short, wildly humorous vignettes. In contrast, Babyfxce doesn’t have enough tricks to make bars consistently stand out. On lowlights like “Charge It to the Game” and “Watch Me,” his words fade into the background. There are scenes that could be vivid, as in “Today,” when he shows up to the doctor with a fake cough trying to score drugs. But they don’t end up being very compelling, mostly because he only spends one line on the image. He can be a stiff rapper on occasion, which is the polar opposite of what has made Flint so distinct.
“Flint Flow,” a posse cut which features some of the city’s recent stars, is the loosest Babyfxce E sounds on the entire mixtape. They’re all having fun here: Mike talks out of pocket and Packman makes coke-sniffing sound effects while clowning some girl’s boyfriend. Meanwhile, in his anchor verse, E jokes about how hard Packman sounds, improvising his way through a slip-up by powering through the mistake instead of doing another take. It’s such free spitting that it feels like they’re all in the studio cracking each other up. That no-fucks-given attitude is what Flint rap is all about.