“Born 2 Ball” Review: Our Next Lyrical Messiah Has Arrived

Once in a generation, a rapper will emerge with a mixtape so virile, moving and potent that it makes you take your headphones off and cry for half an hour. For someone to strip themselves bare and pour their emotions into 50 minutes of slick flows and razor sharp bars is a powerful thing, and a strong MC can send this beauty through your brain and make it come gushing right back through your tear ducts. If Nas or Lauryn Hill did this for our parents, Lonzo Ball is doing this for us.

Ball, who has adopted the rapper persona Zo, released his debut album, “Born 2 Ball,” on Feb. 15. It has unfairly received overwhelmingly negative reviews from critics (the same people who said that Suicide Squad was bad, most likely) despite it hands-down being the most influential rap mixtape of the 2010s.

Zo’s tired, unconfident timidity behind the mic defines his persona as the type of guy who walks into a studio and lets his producers do the work while he raps 30 minutes a day. His personality is on full-blast the whole album, showing that he doesn’t care about literally anything — including how he comes off to his listeners.

His vocal performance is put over the edge by his below-average flow and repetitive, purposely uncool lyrics. Rapping along to the beat for practically the whole album is impressive, proving once again that Zo is one laid-back dude who does the bare minimum and still succeeds in whatever he does. He’s living the dream, and we all know he is.

The bars laid down throughout the album are mastercrafted, dropping lines like, “Diamonds too bright / Shining like a Sunny Delight” on “Grind Mode.” It’s clever metaphors like this that make you pause and say, yeah, orange juice does look just like diamonds in light!

His two featuring artists, Kenneth Paige and DC THE DON, are equally powerful rappers, combining the intentionally mundane lyrics of the album with biting, awkward autotune and their own blank-slate voices. Kenneth Paige’s chorus refrain on “Puttin in Work” is especially atrocious, mixed to an almost exact clone of Spongebob Squarepants without the energy of the beloved character.

Again, the uninformed masses will think that the garbage production is a side effect of a lack of enthusiasm from everyone attached to the project, but it’s actually a clever critique of modern rap. By producing with the lowest amount of effort required, Zo and his crew have exposed just how easy it is for a rich kid with no musical talent to release an album for no other reason than because they could. Emerging rappers like the BROCKHAMPTON team and Vince Staples should be ashamed for putting as much passion and work into their projects as they do — Zo is doing what they’re doing for a fraction of their game.

“Born 2 Ball” is one of the strongest rap albums I’ve heard in awhile, combining Zo’s lack of passion for life with his lack of talent for music, creating a slow, painful album inundated with uninspired beats that no one will remember two weeks from now. He might have been born to ball, but he clearly has more than that to do in life and I will be eagerly awaiting his next musical outing.

Isaac Espinosa is a third-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at imespino@uci.edu.