Virginia is right in the middle of everything. It’s not the industrial Northeast, and it’s not quite the Dirty South, either. But it’s the pivot around which everything American swings – the crossroads, the birthing-place, a territory filled with history, and struggle, and pain, ghosts, and glory. Maybe that’s why so many great hip-hop artists have come from Virginia: artists with singular visions and imaginative reinterpretations of traditional sounds. Don’t Fold Entertainment, a Richmond imprint, specializes in imaginative hip-hop, and Mack Ben Widdit is their newest star and latest expression of the Virginia sound.
Mack Ben Widdit is young, but he’s already developed a distinctive style: half-sung, half-rapped, winsome but spring-loaded and tough, with occasional pop overtones and roots in the blues, always unmistakably hip-hop. His rhymes are direct and stinging, his delivery is relaxed but subtly precise, and he’s got the attitude to burn. He puts it all on display on the meditative “IIWII (It Is What It Is),” a contender for the best and most immediately appealing indie hip-hop single of the year. It’s an instantly engaging beat, with a rattling snare and thumping kick suggestive of the most artful trap music. Over the top, Mack Ben Widdit has looped an acoustic guitar playing a slow, questioning arpeggio – one that, notably, doesn’t resolve but teases the listener deeper into the song. This is the setting for Mack Ben Widdit’s hard-eyed street storytelling, and he handles the curves expertly and keeps things smooth, even as his foot remains on the accelerator throughout. Then, in a little more than two minutes, it’s over.
We think you’ll want to replay it immediately. But if you’re looking to explore deeper, this is hardly the rapper’s first track. He’s already scored regional hits with “Popping Shit” and “The Big Way,” both of which established him as an important young voice in Richmond and a cornerstone of the talented Don’t Fold roster. The “Big Way” clip demonstrated that the talented young rapper is a commanding screen presence, too – deft with a stack of dollars! – and the “IIWI” video deepens the intrigue and extends the themes of his earlier videos. The camera catches Mack Ben Widdit in the club, in the car, and on the stoop of his apartment, and he looks very much as he sounds: confident, self-assured, deft, and quick-witted. But Richmond is a star of the video, too. It’s a vital, hungry, newly thriving American city – and, as you’ll see, a town that knows how to throw a party.