A winning formula doesn’t need to be complicated. Nearly every song on DaBoii’s new album Can’t Tame Us features elements from the same grab bag of sounds: wispy synth pads, twinkling piano melodies, pavement cracking 808s and skittering hi hats. They’re arranged to bounce, slink or detonate, probably depending on DaBoii’s mood during the particular studio session. No matter the resulting vibe, the 25-year old Vallejo rapper attacks each beat like a whirling dervish, ripping through verses with a singular frenzied energy. These songs are maniacally fun, delirious from the unhinged spirit he brings to everything.
Despite its title, Can’t Tame Us significantly refines the magnetic presence DaBoii’s been honing since Gangin, SOB x RBE’s 2018 debut. He’s distilled his 2021 experiments with genre into a sound all his own: it’s morphed into a potent combination of a slippery Bay Area flow with the blown-out urgency of contemporary Michigan rap. His voice, once an aggravated yelp, now takes on the exasperated rasp of a G Herbo-like growl. There’s a balancing act at play between the hilarious and intimidating, revealing DaBoii to be an absurd bully. The initial humor when he raps a line such as, “Pull up to his baby mama crib like, ‘Baby it’s me,’” hides his inherent bone-chilling menace.
The wobbly sense of rhythm he’s toyed with for years also gets an update. On previous records, DaBoii seemed to careen across tracks, barely concerned with hitting all the downbeats. Now, he’s fully in control, compressing phrases into single syllables. Sentences rush to fill the space before elongating, teetering above a precipice and falling squarely onto the beat. At times, his delivery feels like the anticipation of a jump scare: it’s clear something is about to hit, it’s just a matter of exactly when.
Notably, DaBoii seems to have learned that sustaining that kind of energy across an entire project isn’t easy on the artist or listener; at some point, everyone needs to catch their breath. For all his technical ability and lyrical prowess, his flow and subject matter rarely change. If left uninterrupted, what’s fun about DaBoii’s style could easily turn into browbeating. To break up the onslaught, he enlists an impeccable murderers’ row of guests, almost all of whom play foil to DaBoii’s wild-eyed persona. Young Slo-Be and Ralfy the Plug both exude a calm intensity in their appearances, understanding the power of a threat delivered via whisper. On “Stuck In The Middle,” the only track that could be considered a “love song,” Kai September tempers DaBoii’s manic attempt at vulnerability with a warbling, heartsick verse trapped beneath a Xanny bar haze.
The most important guest appearance, however, comes from the late Drakeo The Ruler on “The Deal.” DaBoii charges in, going full berserker mode, shouting that opps won’t be spared due to his “bowling skills” and how those who thought it was a game are now “glitching out.” Drakeo slides in on the second verse, sounding unbothered — almost bored — and it’s clear how deeply he influenced DaBoii. His slithering flow has the same kind of rhythmic teeter, snapping into place at just the right moment, and the dark absurdism of his humor serves as the unimpeachable blueprint to DaBoii’s madcap character. Drakeo is as mesmerizing as ever, weaving together references to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mr. T, and Ronda Rousey, all while bragging about how he “demolish[es] shoulder blades” and makes “opp[s] do an acrobatic flip.” It’s a masterful verse and, at third in the album sequence, a moment of reverence for a fallen genius.
DaBoii isn’t necessarily angling to fill the void left by Drakeo’s passing — to do so would be impossible — but he also doesn’t seem concerned with reaching outside of his niche. Can’t Tame Us doesn’t have any overt attempts at a pop crossover. Aside from Kai September, who hails from South Carolina, DaBoii doesn’t reach beyond California for collaborators. As a result, the album simultaneously feels insular and celebratory, excited about the wealth of talent in the immediate scene and skeptical of everything outside of it.
Can’t Tame Us serves as a showcase for DaBoii’s heightened sense of self. His other solo projects tended to overextend themselves through the sheer relentlessness of his energy or an exploration of too many ideas. Here, he’s more confident than ever. He understands being a good rapper isn’t enough to make a good project. The pacing, collaborations and economical run time all point to a newfound command and appreciation for his work. DaBoii may not be tame, but he’s fully in control.
Shout out to DaBoii that new album
'Can't Tame Us' has NO SKIPS.#CertifiedPTNS
— Shawn4ever77 (@wshawn527) May 13, 2022
@DaBoii___ Can’t Tame Us Whole Tape ??♂️????????
— RichMone (@RichMone2x) May 14, 2022
DaBoii’s use of onomatopoeia the whole album is incredible https://t.co/4Os8CV7eeD
— lil cat (@pedigreecatfood) June 2, 2022