Matt Ox is comically young and, in many ways, it’s his youth that’s propelled him to a level of notoriety in rap. He was 12 years old when he dropped the video for “Overwhelming,” an irresistibly catchy song that cast Ox’s pre-pubescent voice against a hypnotizing Oogie Mane instrumental. In the video, he gathered around a corner store with friends, a fidget spinner twirling in each hand.
His debut album Ox, which is out today, presents Ox as much more than a viral meme and, even further, proves that he deserves to be taken seriously. By the numbers, the album is what most rappers should aspire to in 2018: 11 songs in total, none coming in at more than three minutes, with three features. The album was executive produced by Working On Dying, the Philly production crew who have produced the majority of Ox’s work up until this point, and their muddy production shapes the album.
At times, like on the closer “I Like,” Ox’s voice is best thought of as an additional instrument to the underlying production much like Playboi Carti. But on other tracks, he shows an increasingly evolving ability to craft songs. On “Pull Up,” a duet with Key!, he delivers the catchiest hook on the album; on album single “Zero Degrees,” he warps his voice throughout to great effect; and “Ya Dig” finds him alternating between sing-song melody and booming chants. The best gauge of Ox’s growing skill is when it’s measured against the featured artists (the aforementioned Key!, as well as Valee and Chief Keef) and, in each case, he stands tall on his feet right alongside them.
When I was Matt Ox’s age, I religiously wore oversized LRG clothing and Air Force 1s, so there’s something really hilarious to me about hearing Matt Ox, a rapper born in 2004, rapping about “dripping in Margielas.” There are certain moments on the album when Ox offers something relatable to his peers, even if it’s still something to aspire to: On “Walk Out” he raps, “Stopped doing allowance ‘cause that was little cash to me.” Interestingly, he also manages to go through the entire album without saying a curse word and, with that fact in mind, the project feels like Kidz Bop gone drip in the best way. Matt Ox doesn’t seem overly concerned with sounding mature beyond his years, even if the music already is. He’s just a 13-year-old who made a really good rap album.