Every year, I (misguidedly) comb through the XXL Freshman List candidates to look for names I don’t recognize in the hopes of being put on to some new music. Last year, I did not find a single new artist I fucked with. This year, I found one.
Caleb Brown hails from the Sherwood neighborhood of Baton Rouge, LA, an area just to the north of the heart of the city. According to the bio on his website, Brown (rapping under his legal name) began focusing on rap his freshman year of high school after getting cut from the basketball team. Now 18 years young, the Louisiana native’s early start in the game pays dividends on his last solo release, a 3-track SoundCloud playlist titled The Social Experiment published back in April. Unsurprisingly, Brown grew up a fan of Lil Wayne, but Aaliyah and Boosie BadAzz also make the list. He grew up with gospel music, but studied Eminem and Mystical on his way to becoming a rapper.
Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, The Social Experiment puts Brown’s Southern roots and influences on full display while still emphasizing the artist’s youth and more modern inclinations. Opening track “bleublk” features another Pulpit favorite in IDK, who joins Brown over a relentless, distorted, clipping bass and basic snare. Brown slurs through the chorus before snapping to attention on the verse, picking up speed until he’s almost double-timing. He goes back for seconds with a deadpan, deep-voiced delivery that carries with it a Southern accent. A barrage of horns announces IDK’s arrival on the track before the old beat kicks in again and the Maryland native effortlessly slides along with bars about all the cool sex he's having.“Hangin” comes next and acts more as a showcase of Brown’s skills on the mic. The beat doesn’t tread much new ground (familiar drum kit, some random synths, loud keys), but Brown shows he can hang at a noticeably higher BPM. For an 18-year-old, Brown sounds poised and confident on the mic, and he asserts his presence with a full-throated, screaming chorus that caught me off-guard on the first listen. The song breezes by in just over 2 minutes, but Brown packs two verses and two runs through the chorus into those 120 seconds. Closer “BatonStan Pt. 3” allows an ominous, half-finished keyboard beat linger for 50 seconds before dropping in a snare and a bass line. Brown rushes forward with a bruising flow reminiscent of Vince Staples on certain Summertime ’06 tracks (for me, the verses on “C.N.B” in particular). The deep timbre of Brown’s voice meshes nicely with the lurking production, and another loud, snarling chorus surprises without hurting the listening experience. Brown raps about some of the darker aspects of life in Baton Rouge, touching on problems with his girl, family and friends.
A feature from IDK is a strong indication that Caleb Brown has serious skill, and The Social Experiment only reinforces that notion. He displays an ear for unique, modern sounds that pair nicely with his considerable skills as a rapper. Though he will likely lose the XXL 10th spot voting to someone with less talent, I doubt that will keep Brown up at night or hinder his progress as an artist. Though most people look to Atlanta for Southern hip-hop, perhaps it’s time for people to cast a gaze on Baton Rouge and Caleb Brown.