Armani Caesar’s “The Liz” is a concise expression of what Griselda does best

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Illustration by Melissa Joseph

“The Liz” is the new album by Armani Caesar, the first woman signed to Griselda records.

“The Liz” boils down the Griselda Records formula to its most essential traits while still pushing the label forward. The result is one of the freshest underground hip-hop records of the year.

Armani Caesar has been in the rap game for over a decade. During the 2010s, the Buffalo rapper released a respectable discography of trap that was fun, if not ultimately playing into trends that dominated the decade. However, the shift over to the grimier side of hip-hop on her newest album feels as if it is the start of a new era in her career.

But being the first woman officially signed to Griselda, does she bring a unique sense of femininity amongst the over-the-top machismo the record label is known for, or is Armani Caesar simply conforming to what is expected of her, ultimately losing a sense of personality?

Throughout its 25-minute runtime, Caesar seamlessly taps into the signature production style that has been made famous by Benny the Butcher, Westside Gunn, and Conway the Machine throughout their myriad of releases.

“The Liz” contains everything fans of the record label have come to expect: dusty soul loops, WWF audio clips and endless features. Where it manages to stand apart from the rest is in its variety within such a short amount of time.

If there are two critiques to be made of Griselda, it is that their sound can run stale after enough playtime, and that their discography has become bloated after churning out too many releases—stagnating the label artistically.

Coincidentally, some of the weaker tracks on the album happen to be the ones with a more traditional sounding beat. The lowkey sound of “Mac 10s for Everybody” is just another Griselda beat, indistinguishable from the rest, and it barely has a presence. This song is additionally brought down by Westside Gunn’s hook on which he does his best to sing, but what results is a grating and distracting waste of a feature.

“Palm Angels” and “Ginger Rothstein” also strike as particularly conventional, but are at least nice to listen to.

Some trap bangers manage to work their way onto the tracklist. “Drill a RaMA” is an album highlight with Caesar rapping alongside Benny the Butcher. They share verses, swapping every couple of lines, and their chemistry is undeniable. The additional production by 808 Mafia makes this one of the most exciting songs.

The songs that lean more into trap are far outside of what is expected, but don’t detract from the muddy ambience. They only serve to make Caesar more distinct from others in the scene.

Most of the songs that do stay closer to sample-based hip-hop still impress. The best beats that Griselda produces are the melancholic, spacey, filthy loops. They’re the beats that depict a world in which the people rapping are desperate, and as a result have to do truly reprehensible things to survive. The dusty loops of glamorous soul songs make the life of opulence they strive for seem like nothing more than a distant dream. On “The Liz,” they manage to evoke this feeling effortlessly.

Caesar has a strong voice across the entire project. She’s funny, intimidating and charismatic. One might think she has been rapping over these types of beats her whole career the way she weaves herself into the atmosphere.

Apart from some run of the mill production in a few spots and some trappings that are tradition by this point, there is little to dislike on “The Liz.” Caesar is likely to carve herself into a comfortable niche in the hip-hop landscape. One can only hope to see that she takes her time with future projects to hone her voice. If she does this, she has the potential to become a huge name of the underground.

If you love hip-hop, you should listen to this.

Recommended listening settings: the bus stop at 2 in the morning, the gym while warming up.

Rating: 8/10

Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter.