Hip-hop has come a long way in the last five decades, and you could support the notion that the current generation of rappers is the most ambitious we’ve collectively seen so far. Among the budding stars to come to the surface in 2023 is Slick Naim, whose new single “In the Vault” has been described as an engaging treat for the senses by those who know the genre better than anyone.
Surrealism has had a crucial impact on all of pop music in the 2020s, but for rappers like Naim, it symbolizes a new and exciting avenue of connecting with listeners in a way that some had only hoped to one day experience before now. “In the Vault” takes elements of surreally smooth ambient rap and skews a mainstream melody with a throwback vocal style to create something that makes us think about the words through the emotional lens of the harmonies. Naim uses everything at his disposal here, and rather than feeling weighed down by embellishments, this song instead sounds like the symphony of modern hip-hop that we’ve all been waiting to hear this summer.
Despite the cerebral backdrop, the lyrical focus that Naim employs in “In the Vault” is tight, cutting, and even a little assaultive in a couple of key spots. I get the sense that he knows who he is and what he’s trying to say here, which isn’t exactly indicative of a stacked single (in any genre of music), and he doesn’t have any trouble putting it all out there on the table right from the moment the first beat comes spilling out of the speakers.
There’s a longing in his verses, a constant feeling that he’s trying to capture something as elusive as a dream but real enough to yearn for its presence in his life. It’s as poignant a rap song as I’ve listened to in 2023, and though its greatest charm is its storytelling-style verse, it’s a track that has as much to say instrumentally as it does from a poetic perspective. We’ll know more once we see a new full-length album, but for the time being Slick Naim should be credited as one of the fresher, more urbane voices in New York hip-hop.
If this is a sample of what’s to come from this artist in the next few years, there should be no debate as to whether or not “In the Vault” is likely going to be only the first in a long line of successful singles from Slick Naim. He’s hybridity in a sea of one-note rappers, and though he’s still got some work to do in terms of maturing his songwriting to suit the needs of international audiences, this is about as awesome an offering as you could ask for in hip-hop or otherwise. 2023 is shaping up to be one of the most important years for indie artists in the last decade, and with players like Slick Naim at the forefront of the future, we can rest assured that the beats are going to get even better than they are today.