One of the biggest shifts to come about in the last decade of rap music was the proliferation of melodic singing, giving rappers a wider range of tools to convey emotion in their delivery. The newest generation of rappers has come of age in this style, so for many of them, singing a melodic ballad feels just as natural as shouting aggressive bars or dropping ad-libs.
North Carolina rapper Toosii, a member of XXL magazine’s 2021 Freshman Class, demonstrates his proficiency in this realm with his latest single “head over hills.” Produced by Lil Durk collaborator ThatBossEvan and Rocky, the track opens with a downright gorgeous instrumental. A pitch-shifted voice sings garbled syllables just below the surface – none of the words come through at all, but the raw emotion gets there loud and clear – along with plaintive piano chords and tasteful guitar fills. The overall effect is thoughtful, restrained, and direct. On its own, sans drums, the beat could easily have become a somber indie-pop song.
Instead, the drums kick in, gently at first, as Toosii flexes his melodicism, singing towards his lover. He promises affection and devotion, asking the same of them. Toosii’s voice is rich and full of character; even through ample heapings of auto-tune, he still has a tinge of raspiness that gives his performance a deeply lived-in quality, making all of his promises feel more justified.
“Head over hills” is honest and emotionally poignant: Toosii expresses gratitude at having someone who he can rely on for emotional support without feeling obligated to provide them the showy trappings of success. He acknowledges his opportunities to enter the zeitgeist but passes them up to keep his integrity and emotional well-being. These themes are reinforced by the vulnerability of his performance and the intimacy of the instrumental, making the song feel almost like listening in on a private phone call.