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Connecticut native RealYungPhil has been one of the most consistently creative voices in the wave of sample-based drill music that’s swept the Northeast, spitting bars that are effortlessly nimble but never showboating. His pluggnb-influenced beats often chop up familiar love songs and soulful ballads, but with this year’s Victory Music, he stripped back the catchy samples and frenetic drums to focus more squarely on his voice. Phil’s new left-field sound is owed in large part to Sweden’s Sad Boys production collective, the sonic architects behind Yung Lean and Drain Gang, who have increasingly looked beyond the borders of their home country to offer a fresh sound and a new challenge for American rappers like RxPapi. On RealYungPhil’s new single “Couldn’t Imagine,” he links up again with Sad Boys member Gud, for another victory lap of introspective flexing.
It’s almost 30 seconds into the song before Phil’s verse kicks in, as Gud works his subtle wizardry, weaving an alt-inflected guitar loop with an icy glockenspiel. The use of percussion is almost disarming — not busy or layered like drill beats often are, but gentle pitter-patter, almost as if Phil is performing an unplugged set at a jazz club. Though Phil employs the same hyper-charged run-on flow that’s become a staple of New York drill, Gud gives him a palette that’s closer to boom bap, with a warm piano line undergirding Phil’s sometimes dour voice. With a restless flow and an ear for adventurous beats, RealYungPhil defines himself as an artist in a state of perpetual evolution, never locked down to one style: “They wanted me to be stagnant / I wasn’t lettin’ that happen.”