Native Instinct: A Review of G Herbo’s ‘Humble Beast’

(Humble Beast Album Cover)

Throughout their historical existence, African-Americans have been both misplaced and misunderstood in the context of a country that was not created to cater to them.

In response, their confusing modes of survival have resulted in them being largely ignored only to be highlighted through the perception of stereotypes. And even though their sheer numbers and impact have tightly woven them into the fabric that holds this country together, the Black American has never truly been “seen” by the ominous beacon of light that the United States so proudly projects.

This desire for visibility has been the motive for almost every “Black” work of literature, and G Herbo’s debut album, “Humble Beast,” is no different.

In an interview with RESPECT., Herbo expressed that the hope for his debut is for the project to serve as an introduction to who he is, not only as an artist but also as a person.

A goal that is undoubtedly accomplished.(Credit: Eric Johnson)

Starting with the album’s introduction, “Street,” where he rattles off various self-descriptions: “I’m an extraordinary thinker / I’m a three percenter / I’m like a prophet / I know magic / I can speak a picture…”, to tracks like “Lil Gangbangin Ass” and the more playful “I Like,” (a song centered around the women he’s attracted to). Herb uses almost every song on “Humble Beast” to give listeners an exclusive look at who “G Herbo” is.

By doing this, Herb provided more than just an insightful look into who he is as a creative. Through “Humble Beast,” Herb also gives listeners the necessary content needed to grasp the decision-making, survival tactics, and the effects poverty has on America’s overly marginalized demographics.

This is done by gifting the audience with an intimate look into the mind state of Herbo and his peers. With lines like “Why I got to tote my heat? / I be on B.E.T. / You don’t want to see me free? / Be great. / Can I do me?” listeners get a feel for the internal struggle Herb has with the inhumane strides that are imperative to his survival.

Through songs like “Bi Polar,” Herb touches on the mental instability created by these conflicting contemplations as well as their origins. He expands upon this theme and the attempts to soothe it in the lyrics of “Black.” Despite its bass-heavy beat, this track is extremely intimate as it details Herbo’s known battle with drug abuse. With the help of auto-tune, Herb crones: “I was off them perkies sippin’ lean until my mind told me: ‘stop or you not gone have anything…’” in a way that subtly depicts his battle with dependency. This type of vulnerability is a facet of himself that Herb usually shies away from. But because he considers his infliction to be a direct result of the trauma experienced living on Chicago’s violent Eastside, it is mandatory that G Herbo shares this piece of his personality in order to better comprehend the byproducts of an impoverished community.(Credit: Eric Johnson)

Chicago’s violence and its catalysts are themes that are revisited throughout the album; most notably on the track “Red Snow.” But in the song “Malcolm,” Herb takes this concept to a more intrinsic level.

On “Malcolm,” G Herbo uses rhyme to paint a vivid picture of the “average” Chicago adolescent. He details how a lack of care at the familial and governmental level can lead to one’s demise. And while the project’s immaculate beat choice (harboring instrumentals from Southside, ChaseTheMoney, and more) combined with clever wordplay already put the album in direct conversation with the work of his stated idols, Jay-Z, Jadakiss, and Meek Mill; the use of one of Hip-Hop’s fundamental elements, storytelling, works to further solidify “Humble Beast’s” position as a potentially classic Rap album.

Outside of explaining poverty’s catalyst, Herbo also uses “Humble Beast” to act as a positive mentor that many people living a similar lifestyle might not have. As best displayed on “No Way Out,” Herb uses short monologues to explain how he wants to be the blueprint on how to make it out of a harsh predicament. This is not a new message to any “at-risk” youth. But by reminding his audience that he too shares a related struggle, Herb’s dissertations come across as palatable pieces of advice rather than sermons on better judgment.

This is a power that Herb showcases his knowledge of on the album’s standout track, “Crown.” For this number, Herb chooses to rap over a beat laced with a sample from the popular gospel hymn, “I Shall Wear a Crown.” He then uses lyricism to repurpose the city’s accepted notion of “Crown,” from slang for running a certain area and a Crown Victoria (the common Chicago police vehicle) into a metaphor for escaping the trials of street life trading it instead for self-love and togetherness. This necessary message could be viewed as “preachy” if not given by someone of G Herbo’s connectivity. And by featuring one of his idols, popular Chicago Rapper and street legend Bump J, “Crown” exemplifies the relatable duality that is a literal “Humble Beast.”(Credit: Eric Johnson)

The inclusiveness and raw political stance of “Humble Beast” can liken G Herbo to the popular protest novelist, Richard Wright, and his work “Native Son.” Like the story’s main character, Bigger Thomas, Herbo is also a struggling, young, Black male in Chicago fighting desperately to be “seen” as a man in a society focused on his dehumanization. The systematic ignorance that they both experience lead these antagonists to do unthinkable things en route to fully actualizing their manhood. Yet unlike Bigger, Herbo has been gifted with the innate ability to foresee the obstacles of this slanted system. Because of this, he has eluded Thomas’s tragic fate resulting in a better understanding of what a “man” is.

And while “Native Son” is a fictional story with an all too realistic ending, Herb uses his actual life experiences to make “Humble Beast” a real narrative that results in a fantasy-like conclusion. In doing this, Herbo has provided the one thing that makes his story arguably more impactful than Wright’s novel: the element of hope. With this hope, “Humble Beast” lays a foundation for realistic positivity. Something that has been missing from Chicago Hip-Hop.

Unlike fellow Chicagoans, Chance The Rapper or Kanye West, Herb isn’t a kid who’s “uncle” is Spike Lee or a guy who could afford college but chose to make beats instead.

No, Herb is a harsh decision maker; but he’s also smart and listens. He’s him. He’s you. He is everything. This familiarity is similar to his fictional counterpart, but Herb’s advanced maturity has allowed him to utilize this connectivity to amass millions of views/plays and countless of accolades. Herb achieved this fame despite struggling with a lack of publicity. A burden shared by almost every independent artist but is heavier on Herbo due to his “graphic” content.

Yet because of his relatable charisma, Herb was still able to craft a prolific debut album. A project that he fills with tools for manipulating the ever-present millennial misguidance. With this, Herbo gave his fans something that street value exceeds any drug or gun floating through America’s third largest city. By using “Humble Beast” to tell this beautifully tragic tale of freedom, G Herbo, in turn, gives his hometown of Chicago hope.(Credit: Eric Johnson)

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