Babyxsosa: Babyxsosa EP

When Babyxsosa first emerged in 2018 with “Beat My Ass,” there was a chirpy, nursery-rhyme quality to the Virginia rapper-singer’s voice. She sings sweetly, her feathery vocals floating through the din like a snowflake in a gust of wind. As her profile grew, she began dabbling in ’80s-style synth-pop, plugg, and harsh industrial techno, the latter of which sounded like Yeezus compressed to 8-bit. Her voice is the one constant, cutting through the digital fog even as the music shuffles around. It feels like a sliding block puzzle operated by someone amped up on two cans of Logan Paul’s Prime energy drink.

Even for an artist prone to unexpected pivots, Babyxsosa’s new self-titled project feels like a left turn. Outside of its explosive centerpiece “Baby G,” the production is somber and stripped-back, consisting almost entirely of moody synthlines fit for a minimalist sci-fi film. That aesthetic choice puts more emphasis on Sosa’s vocals than ever, and she uses the extra space to lather her melodies in a cold, Auto-Tuned foam. It’s hard to make out the freestyled lyrics on “Introduction,” but her coos morph into ghostly wails over a yearning organ sample, her wistfulness overflowing with every breath. Babyxsosa is a radical departure from the boisterous sound she’s been tinkering with; “Beat My Ass,” this is not. She relies on these sparse vibes for the rest of the release with mixed results.

Simple vocal refrains melt into the backgrounds of songs, every element weightless and floating towards the ceiling. “Never Know/Viral” lingers on unfiltered confessions that eventually give way to Kid Cudi-style crooning. At just a little under a minute and a half, the track evaporates and leaves little time for respite before the bludgeoning, Playboi Carti-indebted “Baby G” gallops in. Then the drums and horns fade into the ether, and she’s back to singing sweet nothings on “That’s Just What They Say When They Don’t Know You Like I Know You.” The tonal whiplash is bizarre but intriguing, the bones of a romantic theme peeking through these pared-down flights of fancy. Still, the mechanics aren’t foolproof. Outside of that dizzying three-song structure, these tracks feel so raw they sometimes resemble demos more than finished statements.

The project’s boldest experiments are left for the end. On “I Found It,” Sosa goes full a cappella. It feels like a prelude to closer “I’m Over This Level of Life, My Love,” which takes up nearly half the project’s runtime; the song plays out like a slow ascent to the stars, accented by distorted screams and the throes of a crumbling relationship. “I Found It” is underwhelming because it takes its simple presentation a step too far; Sosa’s presence is diminished when she doesn’t have any other elements to play off of. The similarly brief “Never Know/Viral” wrings a lot of feeling out of a small package, and “My Love” capitalizes on the open space in its construction by letting the words and chords get tangled in a mass of angst and acceptance. You can’t knock her for experimenting, but sometimes she does leave more to be desired.

Babyxsosa carries the weight of a self-titled release—an EP significant enough to get its own website with a handwritten song-by-song breakdown. Sosa’s strongest work usually has an anchor—a catchy melody, vocal fry, or standout line that functions as the foundation. It’s daring to follow this summer’s raucous and techno-drenched BLING BLING EP with 20 minutes of electro-chamber pop. But when the shock wears off, Sosa’s ideas feel static where they should be free. These days, rappers stretch the limits of their voices, indulge weighty concepts, and abandon rapping entirely. Sosa’s ambitions aren’t that grand here, but it’s unclear what exactly she’s aiming for. Her presence is still strong, but it’s hard to tell whether she wants to draw the listener in or keep them at arm’s length.