Courtesy of Only The Family Entertainment

September 24, 2019

TEST SPIN | King Von — ‘Grandson, Vol. 1’

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In the increasingly congested hip hop scene, new artists are struggling to make a unique voice for themselves. However, one up-and-coming Chicago rapper is bringing a distinctive storytelling style to the industry. King Von’s new mixtape, Grandson, Vol. 1, contains features from fellow OTF label rappers Booka600 and Lil Durk, as well as high profile producers such as ChopsquadDJ and Murda Beatz. Von’s first mixtape features 13 songs, many of which had already been released as singles (“Crazy Story,” “Crazy Story 2.0,” “War With Us”). Despite this, the project still brings plenty of new songs to the table for returning King Von fans and lots of excitement for new listeners.

Grandson, Vol. 1 brings a music style closely comparable to that of his hip hop mentor, Lil Durk, with the two collaborating effortlessly multiple times throughout the album. Von is signed to Durk’s Only The Family label and has appeared on Lil Durk songs such as “Like That” from Durk’s summer release, Love Songs 4 the Streets 2. Von maintains a strong grounding in the Chicago drill scene, tending to cover dark and violent themes over slow to medium speed production with hard-hitting bass His clear and aggressive lyrical delivery packed with Chicago lingo deviates from the current rap trends of comparatively distorted and experimental mumble and SoundCloud rap styles.

By far the most impressive element of the mixtape is the “Crazy Story” series. Von delivers riveting short stories in musical form, describing in detail the perilous reality of the violent inner city. This is where King Von shines: presenting a cohesive plotline through rap. Adding the production, flow and wordplay, Von delivers a unique sound and style. “Crazy Story, Pt. 3,” in particular, recalls an adrenaline-pumping shootout and car chases through the city, vivid enough to belong in a Hollywood film script. His growing reputation as a storyteller is what sets him apart. Where most would string together individual statements of action and emotion, Von combines it artfully into a single tale.

Although King Von has the tendency to maintain a steady and driving lyrical flow, he also shows the ability to vary his delivery speed effortlessly in songs such as “War With Us.” He does this to a limited extent throughout the project, but Von demonstrates promising wordplay certain to be developed in the future. Additionally, despite the generally aggressive tone of most of his work, Von offers some variance in the mixtape, with songs like “Jet” and, especially, “What It’s Like” a reflective and morose look at what growing up as a troubled youth in an impoverished neighborhood meant for Von, lacking the hard bass and ultra-violent themes present throughout the mixtape.

The mixtape’s biggest drawbacks are both its cliché themes and limited target audience. Drug use, violence and murder, accumulation of wealth and general distrust of promiscuous women are all central themes in most songs and may be discouraging for listeners looking for more nuanced subject matter. However, being that the former is currently the standard of the industry, it is unlikely to sway the average hip hop listener. King Von does well to embrace these tropes with realism and credibility that many new wave rappers are lacking. Likely the biggest limiting factor for the project’s success is its niche market in the rap world and foreseeable problem reaching a wider audience. The intensity, explicit crudeness and violent content of most songs could make it difficult for casual listening. Certainly, the bright side to this is King Von can focus on building a recognizable sound to a loyal fanbase. Even so, Von may look to expand his style in the future as he continues to grow as an artist.

King Von’s debut mixtape reveals him to be a promising up-and-coming artist, particularly amongst drill and gangsta rap fans. Despite the possibly limited appeal of his musical style, “Grandson, Vol. 1” sees Von distinguishing himself from his peers, as it shows off a storytelling ability that is central to his musical identity. Continuing to build on this as well as his promising lyrical ability could see the rise of a new star. Although mostly engaging with the unoriginal themes standard to the industry, Von brings a sense of gritty realism and a unique voice to the table, while remaining an unapologetically Chicago rapper. For hip hop heads, anyone looking to delve into the diversity of the current rap industry or even those simply looking for a head-banger or two, “Grandson, Vol. 1” has something to offer. It is a powerful primary source into the dark reality of life in our cities’ most impoverished neighborhoods, and I recommend giving it a listen.
John Wootton is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at jbw254@cornell.edu.