ICYTWAT: Have Mercy On Us Album Review
On paper, a style rooted in Playboi Carti-inspired vocals and Memphis hip-hop bounce sounds like the most played-out shit ever. But the singles and mixtapes that Chicago’s ICYTWAT has released since 2021, when he was officially reborn as a rapper after making his name as the producer of the now defunct mid-2010s rap clique Divine Council, have deconstructed these influences instead of imitating them. It isn’t the first time he’s pulled off that feat: The instrumentals he cooked up for Divine (as well as one of the essential pre-mixtape Playboi Carti songs) had the brightness of Bastard-era Tyler, the Creator chords and the zaniness of Metro Zu psychedelia, yet he was well-versed enough in those sources to dissect instead of copy them. With a darker sound in tow and his rapping at the forefront, ICYTWAT has brought that sharp ear, attention to detail, and rap fandom to his new mixtape Have Mercy on Us.
Half of the fun of Have Mercy on Us is observing how ICYTWAT has reshaped and unraveled rap of the distant and recent past. There are traces of Project Pat’s Mista Don’t Play: Everythangs Workin and Gangsta Boo’s Both Worlds *69, as well as Chief Keef’s Back From the Dead 2, Bankroll Fresh’s Life of a Hot Boy, and so much more. The feeling is similar, if less complex, to watching Kill Bill or listening to A$AP Rocky’s breakthrough LIVELOVEA$AP, two bodies of work that unabashedly stitch together dozens of popular and obscure references. That’s what really makes them original: They are love letters to the art that molded them.
Rocky is a mentor of sorts to ICYTWAT, who is an affiliate of AWGE, the Harlemite’s purposely vague label, or creative agency, or group of chic friends who shop together. ICYTWAT partially credits the brooding Memphis pulse of his refashioned sound to A$AP putting him onto ’90s underground favorites, like Skinny Pimp and Lil Yo (now known as Yo Gotti). But that’s not the only backbone of Have Mercy on Us. On “In My Glo,” producer Yahnest’s Flockaveli-era Lex Luger bells and mean bassline collide with ICYTWAT’s shrieking ad-libs, which make him sound like the melting witch in the Wizard of Oz. The crackling haze of “Shame Pt. 2” resembles an homage to one of Raider Klan’s trunk-rattling early-’90s Three 6 Mafia tributes, and his slow-moving cadence gives off shades of SpaceGhostPurrp, even if there are some struggle bars mixed in. Dig through “Waitlist” and you’ll uncover Lil Wayne in the lighter flick, Juicy J in the ad-libs, and Madlib in Yahnest’s woozy beat. Thrillingly, and like Carti, he can rattle off gibberish about money and blowjobs while still conveying emotion: Here, he sounds stressed the hell out. He’s not exactly amazing on the mic, but “Jinn Music” gets at what he does well; it’s cool and off-the-dome, but still tight.
Underwhelmingly, the mixtape isn’t self-produced. Beats from Yahnest, Siddhivalik, Polarbwoy, and others are consistently rich and layered, but much like Pi’erre Bourne, ICYTWAT says more in his beats than he ever could in his bars. Luckily, ICYTWAT doesn’t fall into the same trap as Pi’erre’s Cardo-produced misfire, because the Chicago artist chooses producers who seem to share his musical foundation. His vision is intact, even if it could have been more effective if he was behind the boards. What sets Have Mercy on Us apart from other loud, barreling Playboi Carti-inspired projects of this fly-shit-only mold, like Ken Car$on’s X or Destroy Lonely’s No Stylist, is that those releases think it’s uncool to be referential. They so desperately wish to exist beyond comparison—sometimes even beyond the confines of rap—that they come across as incurious. Have Mercy on Us isn’t afraid to be openly infatuated with rap, making it all the more refreshing.