Brooklyn rapper Sleepy Hallow has said in interviews his music is â€œway more than drill,â€ but casual listeners would be forgiven for not realizing it.
Sleepyâ€™s star began to rise in late 2019, with the release of his debut mixtape Donâ€™t Sleep coming close on the heels of commercial successes by New York contemporaries Pop Smoke and Fivio Foreign.
Since then, the HipHopDX Rising Star has put out plenty of hard-hitting music in the current regional tradition, rapping about all the usual subjects (big guns, strong drugs, beautiful women) over distorted bass and minor key melodies.
After two mixtapes, Sleepyâ€™s debut album comes complete with obvious radio plays for new listeners and well-executed retreads of previous hits for long-time listeners. Yet even at a scant 34 minutes, there are plenty of songs that feel phoned in or unfinished. But when the tracks work it allows Sleepy to explore new sounds and flows, building on pockets of his discography that previously felt like aberrations, rather than an integral part of the rapperâ€™s artistry.
Still Sleep? is a laid-back album, sprawling out like a group of friends on a picnic blanket breaking down Backwoods blunts in the park. While Sleepyâ€™s TikTok-abetted breakout single â€œDeep End [Freestyle]â€ had an urgency and gothic intensity that colored much of his last mixtape Sleepy for President, Still Sleep? radiates sunny brightness, like shoulders slick with suntan oil.
As debut albums go, Still Sleep? is loose-limbed and unconcerned with making a major artistic statement, opting instead to let Sleepy and mainstay producer Great John explore sounds beyond Brooklyn drill. There are drill songs, of course: â€œChickenâ€ revolves around an unending sample youâ€™ll either love or hate, while bonus track â€œTip Toeâ€ is an obvious highlight more akin to â€œDeep End.â€
The track is built around an unearthly vocal chop (here, a sample of Tiny Timâ€™s â€œTip Toe Through the Tulips), and the presence of label head and longtime collaborator Sheff G motivates Sleepy to bring his A-game; his nimble raps make simple lines such as, â€œJump in that water get wet up/I like her best friend better/might let her tote my Beretta,â€ stick indelibly in the mind.
There are uptempo tracks too, particularly lead singles â€œ2 Sauceâ€ and â€œ2055,â€ the latter of which will sound perfect blasting out of car speakers and teenagerâ€™s iPhones this summer. Sleepyâ€™s raps can come across as overly simple at times, but their occasional weakness is a fair price to pay for an earworm such as â€œI just wanna slide/Partyâ€™s in the sky like itâ€™s 2055.â€ Already the soundtrack to more than 67,500 TikToks, a recent remix with Coi Leray makes it unlikely anyone will escape this song any time soon; luckily â€” itâ€™s really smooth.
However, much of the album pushes into the guitar-led territory already well-traveled on his last mixtape. Driven by romantic guitar riffs that wouldnâ€™t sound out of place echoing down Venetian canals, â€œ4or Daze,â€ â€œMurda She Wroteâ€ and â€œEqualâ€ help Sleepy carve out his own niche of acoustic guitar rap, much like whippet superstar Gunna did on last yearâ€™s WUNNA. These songs provide a natural foundation for Sleepyâ€™s more melodic register, showcasing his versatility.
The most notable of the albumâ€™s guitar tracks is â€œScrub,â€ which flips TLCâ€™s â€œNo Scrubsâ€ (this albumâ€™s real MVP is whoever was behind the scenes clearing samples). But â€œScrubâ€ also embodies many of the albumâ€™s weaknesses. A sublime sample chop and locked-in verses are hobbled by a lackluster hook and an eye roll-inducing moment of â€œBlame Gameâ€-style audio on the songâ€™s outro. These missteps turn a great track into a middling one, barely notable save for a brand-name sample.
Little about Still Sleep? feels as urgent or necessary as the songs on its predecessor. While hearing Sleepy get introspective on â€œLow Keyâ€ near the albumâ€™s end is a treat, it doesnâ€™t quite carry the same emotional heft or specificity as his previous songs in this vein.
When Sleepy croons about overdosing before saying his lover, â€œCanâ€™t tell me that youâ€™re loyal or you love, gotta show me/Locked up in pain and you my co-D,â€ it doesnâ€™t feel dramatic, simply earnest. But it doesnâ€™t touch the plaintive honesty of last yearâ€™s â€œBad Luck,â€ proof he can pull off impactful introspection. Meanwhile, lighter tracks such as â€œMake You (Snake Proof)â€ feel like knockoffs of other rappersâ€™ songs, while shorter tracks (â€œMi No Sabe,â€ â€œBasketball Dreamsâ€) sound like casual demos.
Despite those faults, this album is mostly a fun listen. At its strongest, Still Sleep? has the laid-back, practically ambient quality of Curren$yâ€™s Pilot Talk series, though it lacks some of the technical polish. The beats here are uniformly pristine, unyielding vocal samples on â€œChicken/Mi No Sabeâ€ aside. And the highs arenâ€™t just fun; they feel like meaningful advancements of sounds Sleepy explored on previous mixtapes.
But this wonâ€™t be the album to change anyoneâ€™s mind about the young rapper. These songs donâ€™t break much new ground â€” and Sleepy for President remains a better entry point to his discography.
At its best, Still Sleep? sounds effortless; at its worst â€” like Sleepy Hallow isnâ€™t making an effort.
When They Playing The New Sleepy Hallow Album â˜”ï¸ in the discord vc : pic.twitter.com/lngnAnDydW
â€” Kxhzi â„¢ï¸ (@YoKxhzi) June 2, 2021
Lolll Sleepy Hallow used the No Scrub beat??????? #stillsleep
â€” CBG (@RealCBG) June 2, 2021
If she listens to sleepy hallow I’ll wife her
â€” Sleepyâœž (@sleepyy83) June 2, 2021