Vallejo, California rapper Nef the Pharaoh released The Chang Project on April 28, 2017. The 15-track outing sees the 22 year old artist deliver an upbeat set, alongside features from a myriad of collaborators including NorCal natives, Loe Gino and Slimmy B, and Larry June as well as the nationally known Ty Dolla $ign.
Over the past year Nef, who dons the moniker Chang over the course of the tape, has steadily built his national following since the 2015 release of “Big Tymin.” Culminating in an appearance on Drake’s Summer Sixteen Tour last September, The Chang Project looks back on Nef’s successes in a catchy and at times introspective project that flows like a sample platter of musical styles and artistic choices.
From the jump, Nef arrives on very airy, pop-rap productions in “Chang You Are My Life” and “Out There.” The former, featuring a sample from Drake’s “Right Hand,” evokes sentiments not unlike those on 2Pac’s “Run The Streetz” with singer Khyenci taking the role of Michel’le from the 2Pac cut. Despite the track’s endogeneity that sufficiently plays up Nef’s nickname throughout the mixtape, it’s focus on his relationship with an unknown woman doesn’t accurately set up the rest of the album, on which Nef tackles issues like police brutality, personal growth and support for his city. Actually, the next “love” focused track, “Back Out (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)” is more an ode to, “The ladies,” with Nef, saying in an interview with Hot New Hip Hop, “I’m more vulgar than Ty so with him on the song, it makes it less offensive.” Cuts like these are a bit disjointed, never building to more than the requisite love jam that can plague hip-hop artists.
Album sequencing aside, The Chang Project takes off with “Spice (feat. Yhung T.O.),” the project’s lead single, featuring a choppy, hyphy influenced beat crossed with one of Nef’s better flows. Nef elicits the energy he radiated on “Big Tymin” paired with a more traditionally Hyphy sounding production. In fact, and not surprisingly so, Nef flexes best on thumping rhythms of the Bay Area take on hip-hop as heard on tracks like “Move4 (feat. Omb Peezy & Jay Ant)” and “Bling Blaow (feat. Slimmy B).” Particularly, the simplistic production on “Bling Blaow” establishes the perfect backdrop for what could become another Bay Area posse cut featuring newcomers alongside veteran voices such as Keak da Sneak, Too $hort and of course Nef’s mentor E-40.
Nef does play with more than just pop-rap and hyphy sounds though, most notably on both interludes. The first, “Loe Gino’s Interlude (feat. Loe Gino)” is a somber take on the violence swirling around both police brutality and black on black crime that is delivered most comparably to a bedside prayer. Loe Gino and Nef trade verses about the difficulties of success in a racially charged climate, with lines like, “A victim of struggle I see the beauty in it, your skin is a burden they label you a menace,” from Gino, or “I got scars on my back from the whippin’s that slaves got, I picked the cotton for the clothes that I rock,” from Nef. “Remedy’s Interlude (feat. Remedy)” features parallel emotions on top of a minimalistic bass and piano instrumental presented akin to a hook-less freestyle. “What you know about a trake in your throat cause you can’t breathe, what you know about a tube in your nose cause you can’t eat,” is another such bar on a project that doesn’t outwardly seek too many emotion-stirring moments, though their inclusion on the project are welcomed nonetheless.
Including contemplative tracks like these interludes is a greater show of growth for Nef than some of the more commercially accessible songs on the album like “Don’t Stress (feat. Caleborate) or “Back Out,” as Nef displays his capability to make thoughtful tracks that may be detrimental to widening his audience but speak truth to his beliefs. He then offsets these songs with genuinely enjoyable moments, as on “Klondike (feat. Remedy & the Real Lil Kayla)” with a hook that plays, “I got top for a Klondike Bar.” Ultimately, The Chang Project is a solid sampler for one of the Bay Area’s most anticipated artists and signals steps forward for Nef’s future.