Image via Mateo Caelan
Aidan Saccocio has a PhD from Dr. Neph’s School of Flyentology
The prolific nature of RXKNephew is well documented, but prolificacy alone isn’t the reason he’s sitting on the 2020s Mount Rushmore of rappers. His music is seeded with a level of mindfulness that lends his lengthy YouTube discography a gravitational pull that becomes incredibly clear the more you dig in. He is present, he is aware, and he is honest about everything he sees happening on the internet and around him in real time.
In a March interview with Perfectly Imperfect Neph bellowed that “I like people who participate and I like to participate in things. I like participating in all aspects of my life.” From his alter ego, Dr. Neph, an Instagram DM therapist with absolutely unhinged solutions to real world problems to his YouTube comment replies, the riffs in his songs on trending topics, and his one-liners on Twitter, Neph is everywhere, and he always has a funny opinion.
With his music though, he’s an experimental Swiss army knife. He’ll surf through synth-wave ambience, he’ll battle beats that sound somewhere between a goth dance track and a rage beat, or even fry an old school boom bap beat he was paid to rap over.
Neph exists in his own sphere of the rap ecosystem and the world at large where absolutely nothing is certain. A living Schrodinger’s rapper. Even the details of the bible deserved further investigation. But if there’s one thing that’s to be certain of as it pertains to his discography, it’s that it’ll always keep you on your toes. What follows here is a non-exhaustive list of his songs that, to me, speak to his genius. The thing about Neph is that besides a few staples, every Neph fan’s list will look much different, and that’s part of what makes him so special. – Aidan Saccocio
It’s not that dissing Kanye is any sort of hot take these days (and it shouldn’t be), but at this point hating on Kanye is reserved for family holidays or small talk with your friend’s mom. On “Yeezy Boots,” Neph delivers an old school roast of Ye. Something about calling his shoes and haircut wack feels like it would hurt him more than engaging in any sort of political debate with him. The beat on “Yeezy Boots” is more in vogue than usual for an RXKNephew song. Its metal guitar sample and blown out kick might make you think you’re about to hear the melodic hard-tuned vocals of Destroy Lonely or Ken Carson, but then Neph comes roaring in with his coarse vocals. Neph’s delivery here is powerful and abrasive, overpowering the wall of sound that is the beat, leaving a real focus on the vicious lyrical content of his diss. This one may not still be available on the official RXKNephew Youtube, but luckily it was posted to our Instagram just in time.
The production on “I Recently Died And Came Back 2 Life” comes from the piercing cold of Dante’s 9th concentric circle of hell. There’s the groveling bass of Tread music, dissonant detuned black keys, and clattering hats that would certainly be impossible to play on a real drum set. It’s the perfect backing for Neph’s no hook trap philosophizing. When the vocals come to a stop and the beat starts to ride out, there’s a pervasive feeling of catharsis, for the listener as well as Neph. Throughout the song, Neph bares his soul, but no line is more striking than when he shouts: “Trying to slow down on them drugs, shit be fuckin’ me up! Play in big Neph face if you want bitch, I’ll fuck you up!” His delivery feels raw and unfiltered, and it leaves you in a shaky limbo between vulnerability and relief.
“Saoirse Ronan” or “Saoirse Ronanâ,” is basically just Neph trolling. The Saoirse Ronan and Little Women bars like “Thick ass bitch, not no Little Women” and “Bad Irish bitch like Saoirse Ronan” are free form and improvised, but retain the sharpness and poignancy of a thought out dissertation on pop culture. Neph has this ability to seamlessly recontextualize figments of culture so far from his niche neatly into his universe. The instrumental backing here is hilariously this sort of cheap take on house music. It feels like a Garageband version of an early 2010’s radio hit like Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” Neph makes the frankly bizarre production work like he always does, but the sort of awkward nostalgia the beat offers is a key part of the fun that is “Saoirse Ronanâ.”
In the world of hyper specific metadata and YouTube type beats, it’s often easy to immediately identify the “type” of production or song you are hearing. “Mee Okay” is an exception, as Deer Park’s production does not fit into any of the traditional or underground rap type beat categories like Detroit, Plugg, or whatever else. The beat here is closer to an Arthur Russell or Brian Eno B-side, and once you add RXKNephew vocals it becomes something completely unrecognizable. Most rappers wouldn’t even try to tackle a beat like this. When it comes to Neph though, it doesn’t matter. Part of what makes him so special is that he bodies every beat, every time. On “Mee Okay” Neph masterfully blends his cutthroat tell-all style with soft ambient production, showcasing his willingness and ability to experiment.
When talking about Neph, you simply can’t gloss over Papi – the two are inextricably tied. “Still Gone Robb You,” is one of the newer installments from the trapped out Rochester duo. The chemistry between the two here is palpable, as they bounce off each other, sliding from one’s verse into the other’s like a prime D Wade tossing the lob to Bron. In addition to the face-sneering raps and onomatopoeic gun sounds, “Still Gone Robb You,” has a crazy claymation style video to match the energy. It’s some of their best work.
This collab with 3300GRIM brings a more stylized and alternative sound than we’re used to with RXKNephew. 3300GRIM inhabits the goth trap realm of Soundcloud and “First Day We Met” sits squarely in that arena. The spacey, blown out production here creates a bit-crushed wall of sound reminiscent of the Witch House genre pioneered by groups like Salem. Neph and 3300GRIM go bar for bar here, situating Neph’s overbearing flow right next to his counterpart’s understated and washed out delivery. A delicate balance is struck here. Neph goes against the grain, attacking the wide textured ambience of the beat while 3300GRIM goes with the grain using his raspy voice to surf and at times, overlap the timbres of the beat. The result is pure dynamism.
“YEAT NEPH” is an underground rap fanatic’s dream. RXKNephew taps SoundCloud rap pioneer F1lthy for this beat. His iconic tread bass is present here, but the track feels more forward thinking than it does nostalgic. The lead melody is verging on a Crystal Castles-esque anthem, but unlike in Crystal Castles, Neph is not bringing anything in terms of a chorus or traditional song structure. It’s a short 90 second freestyle that opens with “I took the wock to Poland like Lil Yachty” and closes with a Mortal Kombat bar. There’s a solid minute on the tail end of the song here that’s solely the beat and improvised ad libs. Neph and F1lthy are by no means regular collaborators but here the two feel like seasoned partners fusing internet rap aesthetics and 2000’s dance reverberations.
Neph’s collaborators can be as varied as his own sound, and here he links up with Pluggnb superstar Tony Shhnow for a Cadillac ride through a sunny neighborhood. SenseiATL brings a lowkey groove to supply the warmth, while Neph and Tony sprinkle in their personalities to animate the track.
Neph paints himself like the Mister Rogers of trapping, waking up with a smile on his face and rapping “Early morning at the trap, come get what you need / Roll that window down, Auntie, what you need?” While Neph is living in the moment, Tony Shhnow reminisces on how far they’ve come, singing “I pop champagne, I told my story with some pain.” “Different Day” feels like a victory lap, but not one out of spite – it cherishes the moment after years of hard work, supplemented by earnest dap-ups and smiles that bleed through the screen.
On “Hennessy Diet,” Neph taps BOSSUP, the beatmaker behind his legendary 9-minute “American TTerrorist” freestyle, for a reunion. This one is more laid back and anecdotal than its conspiracy-laden cousin, full of chopped and pitched vocal samples for Neph to play with. It has this sort of hypnotic and comforting feel to it, which Neph rips through with his edge. The song’s namesake line, “10 hour drive on a Hennessey diet,” reads dark, but the light production and his earnest delivery give the line a lighter feeling, almost like a reminiscence on the halcyon days of late adolescence.
A critic might say “Matching Moncler” is not a love song, and it isn’t in the traditional sense. It is, however, a sincere and uniquely RXKNephew take on love. Neph doesn’t have to deviate from his style to express love, he manages to talk his shit and make his feelings clear at the same time with lines like “say that you love me then hold this pole,” which is about as clear an encapsulation of his appeal as any line he’s spoken. The backbone of the beat is this group of fluttering hi-hats that are noticeably loud, but manage to still feel light, mirroring the fragility of heart palpitations that come when you’re on the precipice of telling someone how you feel. The hats can shine because of the bass line – it is a pitched bass line, not a monotone 808 – and the melodies make you think you’re about to see Ryan Gosling speeding away in the most common car in all of Los Angeles. Neph’s lyrics are gentle, or as gentle as he may be capable of, but we still get some fun one-liners like “shit will get uglier than Young Thug” that scratch the chaos itch.