Baby Stone Gorillas’ rapid ascent to local stardom was a case study in the intricate web of influences that connect regional rap scenes across the country. Hailing from Southeast Los Angeles, the group built considerable buzz over the summer of 2021 before uploading a single track to DSPs, flooding their YouTube channel with a rapid-fire stream of concise, catchy singles like “Up To Somethin’” and “STL Caps & Jay Hats.” Though the quartet still adhered to SoCal’s traditional bouncy 808 patterns and syncopated flows, their greatest appeal lay in their ability to cross stylistic state lines without betraying their West Coast sensibilities. Seamlessly, they incorporated the breathless urgency of Detroit trap and pugnacity of Chicago drill: the sounds they originally bonded over during early studio sessions. And yet, the structures of putting together a full-length project haven’t quite allowed for BSG to match the highs of their initial buzz.
The Military is BSG’s first full length follow-up to the quartet’s 2022 self-titled debut. Like its predecessor, the tape is a hefty effort, weighing in at 23 tracks and a nearly 90-minute runtime, but it eschews BabySt5xne Gorillas’ feature-heavy approach to songwriting entirely. It’s a bold move, but one that better highlights the impressive chemistry between EKillaOffDaBlock, 5Much, P4K and Top5ive. Each member has improved as a performer since their last outing, emphasizing quirks like Ekilla’s tendency to weave in and out of the beat with the frenzied cadence of Meek Mill at his most impassioned, though it’s often beat selection that makes or breaks these new songs, which can, after all, take upwards of four minutes per cut to accommodate the group.
Early single “WOP” is built around some of The Military’s sleekest production, adorning a progression of wispy synth pads with droning woodwinds and triplet kicks—a simple combination that sounds massive in practice. 5Much’s laid-back hook complements the beat’s hazy atmosphere, as if revving up a smoke machine to set the stage for more dynamic verses by Ekilla and P4K. The bluesy, sample-based backing of “Off the Meds” and “Gettin’ Money Steppas” also lend a sense of elegance to the group’s gritty storytelling—keyboard flourishes and Chinese guzheng providing a stark juxtaposition against images of “shredded torsos” and metaphorical militancy.
Tracks like “Unstable” also delve deeper into the introspective side of the group’s artistry briefly hinted at on last year’s “Felt a Lot of Pain”. Over synths and strings that unfurl like a spacey passage from a Hans Zimmer score, the group back up the track’s themes of loss with autobiographical details and painful memories. “My mama lost her mama, back at granny’s used to stay,” sings 5much, Autotune rippling off of his vocals. “Got me lookin’ to the sky, like a gangster’s gotta pray”. Party playlist-ready posse cuts are still the focal point of The Military, but Baby Stone Gorillas do feel a bit more versatile this time around.
Unfortunately, versatility isn’t enough to overcome the same bloatedness that plagued BSG’s debut. Though the aforementioned highlights are some of the group’s best work to date, The Military gets bogged down with filler material like “Off His Crew” and “Miley Cyrus”: cookie-cutter West Coast songs propelled by predictable piano chords G-funk sine wave that don’t push the emcees out of their stylistic comfort zone. The tape’s final stretch gets particularly drawn-out, with 4-minute tracks like “Koldest Addiction” and “First Place” simmering in uninspired Autotuned verses and syrupy production. It’s a formula that works well for someone like 03 Greedo—a crooner with a world-weary twang—but BSG’s strength is their restlessness, knowing when to pass the mic before an idea grows stale.
Singles initially put Baby Stone Gorillas on the radar, and the group’s music is still best enjoyed in bite-sized chunks: two-and-a-half minute music videos or streaming loosies that showcase their ability to trade verses and play off of each other’s strengths. While there’s a good chunk of material on The Military worth adding to your daily rotation, it isn’t an album you can spin from end to end without losing focus. A full listen feels like sneaking a peek at the contents of their hard drive. It’s an abundance of material, but without strict editorial oversight, it feels like a chore to get to the choice bits. At their best, BSG’s music drips with charisma, picking up where now-defunct West Coast posses Shoreline Mafia and SOB x RBE left off, but at present, that charm isn’t enough to make a feature-length project look appealing compared to a click through the group’s recent YouTube uploads.