Born in South Memphis and raised by his grandmother and aunt after his mother was sent to prison before his second birthday, Key Glock is not big on wasting time. On “Since 6Ix,” the opening song from his 2018 breakout mixtape, Glockoma, the upstart rapper finds space for a barrage of boasts, threats, and shards of his childhood before the drums even kick in. One of these lines—“I used to take shit like the Grinch”—is the archetypal Key Glock lyric: a relic of a difficult youth, spun up into an irreverent joke but abandoned so quickly that listeners have no choice but to extrapolate from it on their own. Growing up, Glock immersed himself in the work of local legends Three 6 Mafia and Project Pat, and adopted from them the ability to make lines with wildly different levels of seriousness coexist in the same verse: elegies dotted with cracks about bad sex, lighthearted club songs with murder lurking on the fringes. But coming of age in the 2000s and early 2010s, he was also heavily influenced by the era’s great mixtape auteurs, Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane. Not only would Glock come to be nearly as prolific as those two, but like them he would populate varied, virtuosic tapes like Glockoma with some songs inspired by harrowing events, others that were essentially word games—tracks driven alternately by trauma and onomatopoeia. The effect is dizzying, but also clarifying. What unites these disparate approaches is the rapper’s innate charisma. The final piece of the Key Glock musical puzzle is his older cousin, the late Memphis legend Young Dolph. Dolph signed Glock when the latter was just a teenager, and helped teach him how to bring thunderous beats to heel. Like Dolph, Glock can make a seemingly minor tweak to his vocals and drag a booming song in an entirely new direction. On Glockoma, this is a matter of dynamics: see “Yea!!,” where a near-constant shout is at wonderful odds with a slinking, contemplative beat—or take “Crazy,” a punishing track he navigates with little more than a whisper.

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