With his face tats, diamond grills, and braids, Lil Skies could be rap’s 2019 poster child. His major-label debut album scratches the surface to reveal a small-town rapper (Waynesboro, Pennsylvania) with big hooks and bigger ambitions. On Shelby, Skies builds upon his 2018 breakthrough Life of a Dark Rose, sticking to a melodic, singsong flow, pitch correction software enabled. His perspective remains confident and protective. He beats his chest with pride on “No Rainy Days,” yet all the acclaim doesn’t make the anxiety go away. Tracks like “I,” “Flooded,” and “Breathe” shed light on his darkest feelings, and he succumbs to nihilistic thoughts on “Name in the Sand.” He reunites with singer Landon Cube for a follow-up to their early hit “Nowadays,” while Gucci Mane adds a humorous line about “making Obama moves” on “Bad Girls” and Gunna and Skies examine loyalty on “Stop the Madness.” Underground conquered, Shelby positions Skies as a blue-chip prospect ready for the big leagues.

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