Philly MC Armani White had an unconventional blow up. After years of grind, things finally clicked with his breakthrough hit, the Neptunes-sample international smash single “Billie Eilish,” amassing well over 40 billion streams.
Now he drops off his first collection of songs since his meteoric rise and subsequent Def Jam signing, Road to CASABLANCO (a subtle nod to his 2018 Santo-produced “Casablanco Freestyle,” in name only).
While a major label debut, this EP doesn’t attempt to create any deep sense of timeline or biographical context for new listeners, which makes sense as he isn’t a new artist. Instead, the project is a celebratory victory lap following a year that’s seen him go from criminally underrated to almost unfathomably popular.
Sitting at nine songs, six of which are credited to “Billy Eilish” producer July Da Producer, it revels in his now-exaggerated profile, attempting to shake off any thought that his massive hit was in any way a fluke. In fact, for those who just tuned in, it’s the tip of the iceberg.
For instance, “SILVER TOOTH” featuring A$AP Ferg borrows yet another Neptune’s hit, Bow Wow’s “Take Ya Home,” proving the formula he and July concocted is effective, even if it doesn’t ultimately yield the exact same response.
Elsewhere, “GOATED” featuring Denzel Curry, finds Armani spitting about the fruits of his labour, with bars like, “I bought a crib in a crib with a office chair … beach half a mile, but I can’t see me walkin’ there.”
However, any braggadocio is balanced by a sense of humble gratitude as he reflects on how far he’s come and reasserts that his come-up was anything but overnight–and fraught with obstacles.
The best example is the Elijah Fox-Peck produced “Proud Of Me,” featuring Fridayy where he slides over the bright, gospel-tinged beat, spitting , “I cried on my birthday, and, yes, I’m proud of that … I lived long enough to trap and see the other side of that.” Later in the same song, he recalls sleeping in his car in the same lot where he now parks his dream car.
The greatest strength of this project is how it positions Armani as able to hang on records with multiple generations. In this case, he’s not only given the ultimate stamp of approval from OGs N.O.R.E., Ludacris and Busta Rhymes on the “Billie Eilish Legends Mix” but he also has great chemistry with new school heroes like Fivio Foreign (over the drill sound of “BIG BET”).
In his past projects, like the heart-wrenching Things We Lost In The Fire or the sobering Keep in Touch, which he dedicated to the memory of his father, Armani had found a way to balance loss and struggle with gratitude and silver linings in an approachable tone that simultaneously fit in and challenged what mainstream, youth-centric Hip Hop had become by the late 2010s.
While his energy is intact, the repurposed pain that fueled those two previous projects has quite understandably been replaced with a new outlook, afforded by highs like (according to his bars) making a million dollars in a month. To some degree though, his new perspective meshed with his formula for success makes tracks like “GOATED” and “BIG BET” simply fit in rather than stand out — veering perhaps a little too much into the territory of trying to make a hit.
The curse of a massive song like “Billie Eilish” is that everything Armani drops will forever be measured against it. While Road to CASABLANCO‘s closest moment to repeating the exact magic is a remix of said magic, the project is still incredibly solid. While it may not overtly knock down any creative barriers, it proves his ability to deliver solid tracks and energetic variety with remarkable consistency.
If this is what he can accomplish on the road to “CASABLANCO,” it’s exciting to think what he has up his sleeve for the actual destination.