The image and presence of the “Cinematic Gangster Movie” casts an unmistakeable reflection on Cincinnati’s hip-hop culture. As a more than significant piece of middle and upper class America’s fascination with the urban male serves as the proper denouement for the gangsta ethos. The ever growing but loud following that Cincinnati native HULKx has casually cultivated outweighs even the deftest unknown emcee’s verbal posturing and braggadocio. Of course, the surge in street cred and gift of perspective come at a price–namely, that you are living under the public’s microscope.
For a public starved for something more from hip-hop than jewels, tight shirts and skinny jeans, HULKx’s sophomore release is welcome throwback, drawing listeners into harsh pulp fiction that invokes the criminal spirit of Dwayne Gittens in the movie “In Too Deep”.
HULKx the rapper and the person exist simultaneously as he backs his narratives with a strong push from his “Wolf of Vine Street” mixtape has enflamed the public’s usual indifference for an album’s release. Few could have foreseen that success and security of his second official mixtape would lead to a distribution deal with ADA Worldwide. Unfortunately, anyone hoping for anything with Eminem esque lyricism will be kept waiting.
“Beam Me Up” delivers a heavy dose of HULKx’s calculated-but-haphazard rhyming gangsterism’s: “them police taking pictures like they tryna frame it/ Wait let me rephrase it, Like they tryna frame us.”
“Rich or Indicted” exemplifies a modern interpretation of a forgotten gangsta genre. Unlike artists like Future or The Game who repeatedly refit their chronicles of violence, HULKx delves into a Mad Libs style of fill-in-the-crime lyricism.
Over the haunting sampled vocals and knocking 808’s on the self-produced “What I Want”, HULKx drops lines like, “My daughter locked up/ This shit got my mind numb/ I’m n some stupid shit/ feeling like i dont give a fuck”
When HULKx opens his material to a subject broader than drug abuse and hiding dirt (bodies?) in the mill creek (“Cincinnati’s great open city sewer…”), he manages an almost-overly-emotional aesthetic reminiscent of early Young Lean with lyrics like, “Ain’t never been on that bruh,Nah never see me on no hoe shit/ I’m so sick take my own brain go blow it.”
The slick melodic piano and HULKx’s surprisingly in-key singing on “Fa Me” come off well. HULKx’s drug-riddled cries for a chick to do drugs with hardly match the sing songy rendition of, “I paint a perfect picture/ so vivid, Visualize it and just see it/ Poetic with the lyrics can you hear it and feel it” The songs make a hard case for one hip-hop’s oddest juxtapositions-that-work, competing only with the Lil Uzi Vert in turning a little of this and that into a well polished fiasco.
HULKx’s misgivings, of course, are not without contrast: His response to his “haters” is like a brilliant handbook for reverse trolling. He dogs “invisible” haters over and over while thanking them because they “keep talking shit”. One more time: he asks people to keep hating on him… Because his plays keep going up. Scrap the Donald Trump memes. HULKx seems to have taken the if you don’t like me it doesn’t matter now attitude to new heights.
Moreover, I Go Hard’s final cut, “Trunk Bangin’ Like That”, seemingly shook the whole office building and offers a loud, energetic look into the thought process of a Cincinnati urban male. HULKx momentarily lifts the thug’s facade to recount a throwback nihilism of the gangster ride: “speakers they booming they thumping for real/ We smoking, we drinking, we popping for real
/ That kush, that purp, og for real/ That white, them percs, you know I’m for real.” HULKx’s staccato stanzas mixed with trunk rattling 808’s ebb with intensity until his final conclusion: “Everybody trunk bangin’ like that”
While I Go Hard might not be HULKx’s strongest release thus far, his deviation from the the modern gangster narrative may well spark a new generation of truth-baring rappers to bring the Cincinnati hip-hop scene back from obscurity. While the Drakes and Meek Mills enjoy the fruits of paradise and their jet planes, HULKx reminds us of the ones who didn’t make it: the legions of his fellow urban Cincinnatians fighting to keep afloat under the burden of gentrification,a soaring cost of living and a minimum wage that was increased to only $8.15/hr just this year.