Loyalty begets loyalty. Casanova has the cosign of one of the most thorough individuals in hip-hop history, the still-legendary Memphis Bleek. In 2013, the greatest rapper of all time, Jay Z, said of Bleek: "Yeah yeah. Bleek is an amazing soul, he's an incredible person. You know how much pressure people put on him? You should do this, you should have that!" Bleek has repeatedly laughed off suggestions he deserves more. N.O.R.E. gave the New York rapper high praise on Drink Champs , and those words about loyalty, honour, and respect have followed Bleek around his entire career. If ever there was an individual who kept it 100, it's Bleek
Therefore, to get a Memphis Bleek cosign is a huge honour, and one only bestowed upon another individual who is loyal and respected. So we have Casanova, a rapper who would appear to be treading down a similar path to 50 Cent in the late 90s, pre-Aftermath. He's claimed to be the biggest gangster in Flatbush, he's spent time in prison, and he arrives on the scene at a time when New York is a little disoriented. Remember in 1999, the year 50 Cent recorded Power of the Dollar, New York was in a state of flux. The year before Jay Z made the audacious statement that New York was "soft" after the East Coast - West Coast rivalry. And then he dropped "Things That U Do". Someone needed to stamp their authority, and although Fif suffered a false start, he eventually came through and helped confirm The Blueprint and Stillmatic, signalling a New York revival that culminated in "New York" by Ja Rule, Fat Joe, and Jadakiss.
Can Casanova be the 2017 version of 50 Cent? Despite the rise of rapper Desiigner, it's been argued for at least half a decade that New York rap has lost its way. From the outside looking in, it seems locals aren't as ride-or-die as they were in the 1990s. Back then, if a southern track found its way into rotation in the Big Apple it was something incredibly special (think Juvie's "Ha"). Now, New York radio stations spam playlists with Drake, Migos, 21 Savage, Yachty, Vert, and whoever is hot on Soundcloud that week. It's doubtless heads like Flex, Envy, Clue, Kayslay and co would love to throw their weight behind a New York revival, they just haven't yet found the figurehead with enough star power and personality to carry the torth. In Casanova, we may finally have a leader.
Be Safe Tho is Casanova's first full project, and comes on the back of a bunch of hype stoked by various interviews and shout-outs around the city. It's his relationship with podcast personality Taxstone that is most important though. On opener "Tax Letter", utilising the nostalgic and emotional "Song Cry" beat from 2001, Casanova delivers a kite to his mentor and friend, giving background information about their interactions and shouting out popular aspects of the Tax Season podcast (Bevel!). Cas raps:
"You help me out the trap / You got my deal for me / I ain't ever lookin' back"
Then it's full-on gully mode. "OHB" starts "With that Draco, I'ma kill a n*** / I'm a gorilla, n***". On "Stick and Move" he delivers shuddering, worrying warnings to anyone posted up against him. "RIP Rollie" is a boastful song, laying waste to the timepiece favoured by the MMG soldier Meek Mill. He throws a Jay Z reference in for good measure, using the classic "Imaginary Player" to solidify his own credentials. "Man Down" is a straight boom-bap classic, the kind of thing Large Professor was crafting in the mid-90s. The content is exactly why people were scared to walk the streets of New York during this period, hype music for people toying with the meaning of right and wrong in an unjust and unsafe environment.
All the beats are boom-bap bangers, and Casanova's brutal approach to rapping recalls some of the greats. He bodies a beat, not unlike N.O.R.E or Sheek Louch, and, oddly, Young Chris from the OG Roc-A-Fella days. His halting delivery allows him to punctuate every bar with an emotion or feeling. And this is why he's so special and so different. This isn't just rhyming about the streets for the sake of rhyming about the streets, Casanova brings a weight of experience to each and every bar he raps. He sounds so much more focused and switched on that those riding the viral wave at the moment (Yachty, Uzi Vert, Migos, 21 Savage, Kodak Black). He rarely raps about shuffling off into the abyss of drug use, and the emotion he throws at songs connects with his fans. New York needs a unique selling point if it's to rise above the swirling pool of drug addiction and doped-out delivery of today's stars, and Casanova has tapped back into that Illmatic/Ready To Die/Reasonable Doubt period, where gangster rappers had real-life experiences.
In March 2017 he appeared on DJ Kayslay's show to talk about his growth as a person. At one point he says: "That's when I knew it wasn't cool to be gangster no more," before explaining the amount of money he's making from rap has helped convince him to leave the street life alone. 50 Cent's influence can't be forgotten in this instance. On "The Old 50" he throws it right back to the way the Queens legend took the charts by storm with his uncompromising style. But let's not forget 50 Cent transitioned from the streets to rap superstardom. He never again saw jail time once he committed to Shady Records and his music career. Casanova may not have explicitly stated he'd like to follow that path, but his interviews about turning over a new leaf, and his commitment to the press circuit and the business side of the industry seems to mimic that of 50. If he can penetrate (pause) radio and provide a positive influence in a sea of negativity, he could become something truly special.