Six months ago a relatively unknown artist named 4Batz made an appearance on the YouTube series “From the Block” and surprised everyone. His appearance suggested a thugged out performance was on deck — grill in his mouth and ridin’ down South — but what came out of his mandible was far from animal. Instead an almost sickly sweet falsetto started crooning “You runnin out of shoes to wear/so I bought you another pair” as his whole crew looked on, seemingly accepting this as the norm and not some strange audio manipulation or AI vocal substitution.

It shouldn’t surprise you that this went viral, because that’s exactly what it was designed to do. Message boards and social media lit up with debates about whether or not that was 4Batz’ voice. Don’t take my word for it. Start typing “Is 4Batz” into a Google search and see what suggestions you get next. Fake or not it got 4Batz (real name Neko Bennett) the attention he needed. In fact it got so big so fast that DRAKE JUMPED ON IT. I guess he wasn’t too busy beefing with Kendrick Lamar that day. The remix seems poised to surpass the views/listens of the original, which I’m sure Bennett is fine with, because it’s just more free exposure to help his career.

All of this leads us to his debut album/mixtape “U Made Me a St4r.” The intro of the album may be the first time we’ve heard his actual voice. “Man y’all all probably wondering how I got here/shit, I’m wondering the same shit.” For some reason he forgot to change the battery in his smoke alarm while recording the intro but whatever. It’s nice to meet you Mr. Bennett. If I’m being honest this intro makes me more curious how you’d sound when you’re not being pitched up and/or pitch corrected. You’ve got a pleasing Texas drawl and a nice baritone voice. He lets the mask slip a little bit on songs like “99,” where he goes from the high falsetto to a pitch somewhere in between his natural and familiar voice.

I’m accidentally amused by the store he visited simply being called “Liquor,” and it also makes me wonder if it was filmed in Texas, a state where on more than one occasion I had to cross a county line just to legally purchase liquor (blue laws are weird). Anyway the closer we get to 4Batz true voice the more interesting he gets to me. The helium enhanced debut got him noticed but it’s the playful swagger of “fckin u” that will keep you. It’s some raunchy crass R&B where he vows “I’m dickin you down babe” and “I don’t give a damn how your friends feel.” It feels like what would happen if drive time urban radio wasn’t censored on the FM dial.

In case you hadn’t figured it out women are on 4Batz’ mind pretty much all of the time. He’s a modern day Akinyele in that way. Is he the lyricist that Mr. Adams is? It’s hard to tell when he hasn’t been around long enough for us to know what else is on his mind, but “There Goes Another Vase” at least shows us a new dimension as the song and accompanying video reflects a turbulent relationship. “I’m starting to doubt that you’re my bae” croons Bennett as the roller coaster ride comes to a dramatic end.

In fact “All We Do Is Argue” is more of the same and gets us even closer to his true baritone. He’s as much rapping as singing on this one, spitting the vocals so quickly that you could call it either and still be correct in your assessment. Artists often tell us that their songs are just exaggerated personalities made up for entertainment and not a reflection of who they really are. I hope so otherwise I get the feeling he’s dating the wrong women and in a lot of toxic relationships as a result.

I could have done without the album including both “On God (She Like)” and a remix of the same featuring Ye, but when you blow up from Drake remixing your debut song, it’s not surprising that another famous and controversial artist is recruited to do the same thing. I just find his voice hella annoying any more, and his “don’t do that, don’t do that” verse is delivered with limp dick enthusiasm. It does the opposite of what Aubrey Graham did — it brings 4Batz down instead of hyping him up. Thankfully it’s the closing track of “U Made Me a St4r” so it’s easy to skip. At just under a half hour long it’s an interesting debut that will probably leave more questions than it answers, which is good for an artist who needs to keep buzzing to move his career forward. I hope we continue to get closer to the real Neko Bennett with each successive release.

4Batz :: U Made Me a St4r

6.5Overall Score