Pitchfork

Nef The Pharaoh Is Talented, but He Doesn't Need to Try So Hard

Pharaoh's "Mushrooms & Coloring Books" is fun when the rapper lets himself relax

24-year-old Tonne Hayes, otherwise known as Bay Area rapper Nef The Pharaoh, has always been cut from a different cloth.

2018's The Big Chang Theory was a peculiar amalgamation of pop and west side hip-hop. The album contained a slew of exuberant idiosyncrasies. Pharaoh spoke on everything from Bluetooth earpieces to Ed, Edd & Eddy and the late '90s R&B star Donell Jones, and he made ridiculous observations like how a concert venue once smelled like "stank pussy and burnt perm." Braggadocio is Pharaoh's first language, and his rise since 2015's "Big Tymin" has shown the rapper to be a creatively strong lyricist, albeit a strange one–making him a perfect disciple for E40, who for years has been the king of quirk.

On Mushrooms & Coloring Books, Pharaoh leans even further into the eccentric braggadocio, but at times it's to his detriment. "Tap Yo Pu*sy" is thematically crude, and the track's production sounds crowded, with Pharaoh's "yeaaah" and "wow" adlibs overpowering anything else that could have been lyrically redeemable. "I'm about the closest thing you're going to get to Mac Dre," he claims on "Drought." "I slap a n---- like I slap a bitch," he says on "High Voltage." "I had a real d*ck tease, her name was yo' bitch." Claims of this nature are slightly too grandiose for an upcoming artist like Pharaoh, and at times it reads as overcompensation.

It's clear that Nef The Pharaoh is ready for the mainstream success, and he hopes such bold claims will put him on the map as a threat, but Pharaoh shines at his best when he competes solely against himself. "Purple Cups" is an exhilarating experiment, with Pharaoh flexing his commercial chops as he sings along to a wobbly EDM instrumental. On the other end are tracks like "Lethal Weapon" and "South Vallejo," which find Pharaoh in his comfort zone as he tackles the west side vibrato with ease. The emcee's talent is undeniable when he sticks to the clever wordplay, like how he has so much "blue cheese" they should call him "Buffalo Wild Wings."

The rapper is eager, if not overly so, to break into hip-hop's A-leagues, and he has been steadily on the cusp since 2015. Mushrooms & Coloring Books may not, unfortunately, serve as that ticket, but it does offer another compelling glimpse into the breadth of Tonne Hayes' talents. Next time, he just shouldn't try so hard.

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