You’re Kirko Bangz, 23, with a platinum single already under your belt, some “drank” in your cup and what seems like the unwavering support from your hometown’s ruling class, which just so happens to include some of the more well respected names in the industry (Bun B, Z-Ro, etc.) Sure, that might sound to most folks like one of the most enviable positions a twenty-something college dropout could have in today’s job climate. But on the flip side, such breakout success can bring about its fair share of pressure for a young artist.
On Progression 3, the Houston upstart’s latest offering, there are glimpses of promise—both when displaying a melodic, Drake-esque approach that Kirko’s managed to find commercial success with, as well as when he chooses to rap, albeit briefly, in periods of honest frustration. But as a whole, the project just doesn’t have the same potential for impacting listeners or the same replay value as his 2012 breakout, and the current tape’s prequel, The Progression 2: A Young Texas Playa.
The Progression 3 project leaves a lot to be desired. People looking for a greater sense of maturity from Kirko and a general refinement of his persona and music will probably be disappointed. Kirko leaps from snails-paced bedroom ballads to speaker thumping, trunk rattling, feature-parties like “Versace,” featuring French Montana, YG and G Haze. And while “Versace” sounds decent, mainly thanks to DJ Mustard’s production, it’s a bit cringe-worthy and still not that “Versace,” so the whole idea, just maybe, should have been scrapped from the project to begin with. The tape’s other feature-heavy anthem, “Cup Up,” on the other hand, is a typically great Houston-exclusive posse cut which is highlighted by the fact that everyone on it—Z-Ro, Paul Wall, Slim Thug and Kirko—delivers deft verses in adamant response to the great deal of “borrowing” other cities and regions have been doing to some of the sounds and cultural aspects originated in and so dear to Texas hip-hop.
“Essay,” produced by Sound Mob and featuring G Haze, is another notable moment on Progression 3. The record, which is in homage both to Texas’ Mexican-American community as well as the chopped and screwed funk-sample sound that was a staple in early UGK and DJ Screw records, offers a welcome dose of nostalgia to listeners of traditional “Slow, Loud And Banging” Texas rap. It’s also emblematic of one of Kirko’s most endearing traits: He represents his hometown, and home state, as a proud badge of honor, whether by cheeky or overt nods and tributes to the sounds and subjects that helped shape Texas (and chiefly Houston) hip-hop culture as we know it.
The problem with naming a tape Progression 3 is setting up your listeners with a preconceived notion that you’ll ultimately be showing signs of, well, progression. And while there are enjoyable cuts here and there, it’s hard for anyone to argue that this tape is even moderately more mature, fine-tuned or impactful than its predecessor. Kirko still needs to carve out his lane. And that’s not something that’s easy for anyone—rapping or otherwise. It just hasn’t happened here. But with Kirko’s talent, an already demonstrated degree of success and a growing fan base, it would be hard to dismiss Kirko as yet another one hit wonder (well, two hits if we’re counting “What Yo Name Iz?”) especially, as Pimp C would say, with “the great state of Texas” riding for him as heavy as it appears to be. – @WavyDaveWilliam