Since the release of FACE in January, Babyface Ray has checked into another class of rap stardom. Aside from FACE becoming the Detroit rapper’s highest-charting project to date—debuting at number 31 on the Billboard 200, nearly 100 spots higher than 2021’s Unfuckwitable—Ray was included in XXL’s 2022 Freshman Class and, just last week, made his late-night TV debut on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. His performance of “Masterpiece,” a standout song from his flashy and melancholic new album MOB, was backgrounded by a shot of the Detroit River, an emblem that amplifies the duality of Ray’s stories. He’s a rapper who’s traveled the world but can’t leave the house without a gun, offering advice to the youth while in the process of curbing a lean addiction. MOB follows these complicated leads, burrowing deeper into the troubled thoughts and labored fruits Ray has always explored in his music.
Ray’s raps typically glide with the efficiency of cold steel, but between forced features, uninspired beat changes, and some ultimately half-baked ideas, his major-label projects have all had a handful of shaky moments. MOB deads that trend, standing as his most meticulous project yet. There’s little fat and just enough experimentation to showcase what Ray does best: bring his world of opulence and tragedy to life with a stoicism that would send chills up Ghost from Power’s spine. On “Wonderful Wayne & Jackie Boy,” he compares his strategic movement to that of Golden State Warriors forward Klay Thompson and claims he’s ready to “knock his shit off, Mr. Potato Head” before praying that his karma “don’t come back on my daughters” one song later on “Rap Politics.” Ray’s deadpan is surprisingly malleable, bringing dimension to his boasts and confessions without losing his distinct sound. His tone rarely changes but still sells the danger of popping Percocets while driving luxury cars (“Brand New Benz”), the humor in comparing his misanthropy to Tommy Hilfiger’s racism scandal (“Crazy World”), and the glamour of hiring a personal shopper (“Nice Guy”) with equal skill. At any given moment, he’s as funny, menacing, or benevolent as he needs to be.
Ray’s persona is even more affecting when he digs deeper into his life. Attempts to stop his lean habit—and simultaneously judging others for indulging— come up several times, most notably on the intro to “Spill My Cup.” There are more mentions of his daughters, cousins, and nephew, all of whom he wants to spoil and prepare for a cruel world. These thoughts hit hardest on “Vonnie Skit,” an interlude that dwells on a conversation between Ray and his mother about how she gave up her dreams to raise Ray and his brother. Ray isn’t immune to feelings of remorse, but the tender streak on MOB gives its sadder moments the heft of diary entries from a capo scared enough of the future to start memorializing the past.