Columbia Records
Columbia Records

Confidence is an essential trait in hip-hop, where even daring to seek rap supremacy takes a certain level of fortitude. Knowing you're worthy of sitting atop the throne and actually proving it is an exercise in both courage and skill, which rapper Russ has displayed in spades thus far, bumrushing the show with the air of someone who expects nothing but greatness for themselves.

Although the New Jersey-born, Georgia-bred spitter has already built a catalog to marvel during the first half of the decade, with 11 indie album releases and a ton of SoundCloud exclusives under his belt, 2016 is the year that Russ' buzz would become impossible to ignore, as the rapper inked a deal with Columbia Records in June that year and scored his first hit single, "What They Want," peaking at No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 and achieving platinum status. The song's follow-up, "Losin' Control," peaked at No. 63 on the Hot 100, evidence that Russ was no one-hit wonder and capable of translating his hype into tangible success. With major label backing at his disposal and a hunger for more, Russ introduces himself to the masses with his debut album, There's Really a Wolf, which mixes indelible melodies and a slice of his cocksure personality with recollections of the blood, sweat and tears that have shaped his artistry.

As rappers increasingly become packaged as double threats, with the ability to both craft a beat and supply the rhymes, Russ comes in that package, with the self-contained creative leaning on his prowess as a boardsman to enable him to produce all 19 songs on There's Really a Wolf. He makes a great first impression on both accounts on "I'm Here." "Singin', rappin', mixin' masterin', engineerin' producin'/That's every song with no exception, plus the catalog longer than a lot of veterans," Russ boasts over the thumping kicks and snares, weaving in between piano keys with ease while peppering the track with punchlines and heady one-liners.

With questions and intrigue surrounding his race, the DIEMON boss expresses his experiences as an Italian-American rapper, admitting, "Some people lookin' like they wanna snatch the White up out me," but There's Really a Wolf is by no means an outlet for venting racial strife, as Russ is more concerned with money, women and personal progression and fulfillment. "The Stakeout" and "Act Now" are both in the spirit of self-improvement and growth, as he reminisces, "Man, I'm blessed these days, never forget these days/Took a lot of long nights, just to get these days," on the latter, before transitioning into "Cherry Hill," a selection that showcases Russ' artistic range.

Exchanging his cocky flow for a pained falsetto, Russ delivers a sparse ditty that is among the more brilliant moments on There's Really a Wolf. The syrupy vibe is continued with "Ride Slow," and "I Wanna Go Down With You," but Russ dials up the tempo a bit on "Don't Lie," on which he addresses a lover's dishonesty, musing, "’Cause you the one who's been Slick like Rick though/Pretendin' to be innocent but you a nympho."

The aforementioned "What They Want" and "Losin' Control" are two welcome inclusions on Russ' debut and gives the long player familiarity without becoming its main draw, a distinction which is reserved for songs like "Emergency," on which the rapper spills about balancing his newfound success with his relationships with family, friends and himself over somber piano keys and frantic drums, and the album's finale cut "Pull The Trigger," a contemplative offering that doubles as one of the album's more aggressive soundscapes.

Russ' insistence on commandeering all aspects of his craft and creative process is admirable, but one that occasionally stunts him musically, as tracks like "Do It Myself" and "One More Shot" could've been grander compositions with additional cooks in the kitchen, as is the case with some of the hooks included. However, Russ' knack for a heady couplet and a slick melody are both evident throughout There's Really a Wolf, offering a sampler of the new jack's skillset rather than a defining statement. Carefully building the foundation for his career, Russ lands on solid ground with There's Really a Wolf, the first chapter in the rapper's journey.

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