Few artists have maximized the direct-to-consumer possibilities of YouTube like RXK Nephew. Where other artists are bound by contractual obligations and release schedules, the Rochester, New York rapper took an accelerationist approach, delivering an erratic stream of loosies to a devoted cult following. Recently he’s slowed his once-overwhelming workrate—relatively speaking. Till I’m Dead is his first full-length project since November 2022, while his flood of YouTube uploads is now more of a trickle. Even as he’s started to acknowledge the game a little more, Nephew manages to swerve industry expectations—his music is still confusingly spread across multiple Spotify profiles with slight differences in spelling, as if to throw off any fair-weather fans.
Despite Nephew’s mammoth catalog, Till I’m Dead is presented as his official debut album. If it’s not his actual debut, it at least introduces a new version of the ever-mutating Nephew. Alongside his conspiratorial bars and non-stop flow, a general indifference to conventional standards of mixing and mastering has long been a defining feature of Nephew’s work. On Till I’m Dead, he finally acquiesces to industry audio conventions. And while past releases have included beats from multiple producers, Till I’m Dead is produced entirely by Rx Brainstorm. Nephew is approaching his work with greater focus: It’s the first album he’s recorded entirely sober, a formative shift for an artist whose work has always felt deeply intertwined with drugs, in both lyrical content and overall atmosphere.
Any concern that these developments might impede Nephew’s distinctive stream-of-consciousness flow quickly proves unfounded—greater intentionality has merely brought the pixelated edges of his work into sharper resolution. Till I’m Dead is an hour of unrestrained and overlapping bars sans features, showcasing Nephew’s singular fusion of galaxy-brain absurdity and unexpected vulnerability. The pressure to conform is a stress that Nephew acknowledges lyrically—“Hey Neph, you should do a hook,” he says in a mocking tone on “1000MPH”—but he still refuses to give in.
Nephew’s love affair with dance music is hardly new, but Till I’m Dead proves it’s more than just flirtation. Rx Brainstorm weaves effortlessly from footwork on the opening track to LTJ Bukem-like astral jungle on “Frames” to smooth tropical house on “Critical.” Even when the mood is more relaxed, the music glides through multiple styles: The watery synthesizers on “Do It For You” have a slight indie pop flavor, and “On My Mind” sounds like trance music by way of vaporwave.
On his most uptempo tracks, Nephew transforms into an MC in the classic sense, an enthusiastic party conductor commanding the audience to groove. The air horns and trap drums that open “I’m High” recall Datpiff-era rap, but the beat switches to Baltimore club as Nephew unleashes his manic Slitherman persona, suggesting a demented version of early ’90s hip-house jock jams. Cartoonish alter egos like Slitherman and Too Tuff Tony, who Nephew embodies through affected voices, are a core part of his mythology and a locus to his work. A compelling parallel emerges in his constant references to professional wrestling; like the greatest pro wrestlers, Nephew treads a thin line between persona and personality. The contrast between his whimsical side and the increasing poignance of his writing makes the expression of sincere emotion land harder. Though Nephew is still negotiating a compromise between his own sensibility and more commercial considerations, Till I’m Dead is the closest he’s come yet to threading the two.