The first time I heard Young Thug I was astounded by the rapper’s playful use of cadence, and how he didn’t so much say words as stretch them into different shapes and sizes to wield them as an assortment of verbal weapons. He’s Willy Wonka channeled through Harry Houdini; capable of conjuring these infectious turns of phrase out of otherwise unassuming minor key instrumentals. You can almost chew on a Young Thug song — his raps coalesce like syrup over the boat, turning a popular contemporary sound into his own concoction.

Oakland rapper Kamaiyah doesn’t hold the same technical command over her flow as Young Thug, nor does she have the endurance to run marathons over her songs like he does. But her sound is a throwback, rooted in celebratory g-funk and old-school percussive snap (she actually raps over a sample of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Let’s Groove” at one point) that is climates warmer than anything Metro Boomin has touched prior to Kanye’s new album. Yet the reason I am drawing this seemingly unfounded comparison between the two rappers is because when I first heard Kamaiyah’s voice on her breakthrough single “How Does It Feel,” I detected a similar instantly iconic skill in the way she turned the track into bubblegum and kept smacking it with her teeth.

Last week the buzzing MC released her debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto, which includes the aforementioned “How Does It Feel.” That song is a backseat banger, built for riding around in the used car you know you’ll one day trade in for a Cadillac. Kamaiyah is only 20 years old but has already paid her dues, remarking that the life she came from was one of “struggling, hurting, and anger.” Yet she’s all good vibes — with gratitude for her crew of friends and her commitment to a dream that is finally being realized. She embodies a story every fan of hip-hop wants to believe in, letting you know from the opening track that “Music was

[her] answer to the madness.”

The rest of A Good Night in the Ghetto solves the perennial tension of the day-to-day grind with buoyant R&B synth lines, biting snare drums, and bright flights of piano. Like Young Thug, Kamaiyah’s voice feels just like another instrument in the mix, weighing the album down in this booming nasal tone that’s almost brassy when she slides into a hook. But where Thugger is lyrically opaque and instinctively hyperactive, Kamaiyah comes across professionally laid-back while still dropping expressive proclamations of confidence.

But it’s one thing to write a great line — it’s another thing to deliver one. Kamaiyah’s already got a fully formed personality on her first major tape and sells brashness so melodically it almost sounds tender. Just pay attention to how she just slurps up the phrase “your bullshit, I don’t want that” with smooth gusto on “Come Back,” or the way she leans so hard into the word “fire” on “Freaky Freaks” that she threatens to snap it into two separate syllables.


Kamaiyah’s riding a wave of critical support right now, which is surprising — not because she isn’t deserving (she is), but because she so naturally embodies the archetype of the populist MC. She sells self-assurance with grounded optimism and rhymes with a grassroots grit characteristic of her Oakland hometown. I’m amazed that I discovered “How Does It Feel” on Pitchfork instead of from a college party playlist or blasting from a passing drop-top riding down Telegraph — it’s only a matter of time until Kamaiyah is universally on heavy rotation. She’s destined for greatness, and as a rapper for the people she serves as our collective sense of self-worth that reminds us that we are as well. How does it feel?