Barnacles would be the soundtrack to a reboot of American Pie starring Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin as Jim Levenstein and Amandla Stenberg as Michelle Flaherty. The lucid, steamy and flirtatious new project from SahBabii is borderline obsessed with doing the do—so much so that its explicitness can, on occasion, become its weakness. But with its clear sense of direction and some of SahBabii’s most adventurous rapping in his career thus far, Barnacles is his strongest work to date. It pushes him away from Atlanta’s rap scene and onto his own island—one clad with babes and contraceptives, evolving away from emulating his influences.
Of the many artists that Young Thug’s animated influence can be heard and felt in, SahBabii ranks near the top. The 23-year-old rapper, originally from Chicago but moved to Atlanta at 13, went viral off his 2016 breakout song, “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” that repurposed Thug’s villainistic chanting to create a cartoonish ode to carrying guns. SahBabii would go on to release his first project, S.A.N.D.A.S., in 2017, Squidtastic in 2018 and the three-track EP, 3P, in 2019, with each finding him growing more idiosyncratic, delving more into sexual experiences and anime references then his legendary predecessor.
Barnacles’ arrival comes at an interesting time, as it could very well be the last new music we get from SahBabii. Earlier this year, he revealed to Pigeons and Planes that after the release of a new album, then called Wolverine, he was considering retiring to do other things. So, potentially, Barnacles could be the emotional parting message to fans that tearfully thanks them for their support over the last four years.
But SahBabii snorts at tradition. Barnacles isn’t even remotely close to a swan song. It contains ripped audio from a Pornhub compilation video. Its 16 tracks are about intercourse and its many angles. He compares his member to the Disney classic character Goofy, a plate of spaghetti and a biscuit from Popeyes, for starters. And then through a buffet of ornery one-liners, he establishes an X-rated oasis that makes you want to turn the volume down just a little bit—in case the car on the road next to you has young kids in the back.
Barnacle’s bubbly beats and floating background voices lull you into a lucid dream, one where seductive sirens whisper sweet temptations into your ears from faraway islands. The opening title track’s mellow vibe, with disembodied chants of “Barnacles” floating throughout its atmosphere, sets the project’s tone and permeates throughout its runtime. With this uniform sound, Barnacles gets some points for its cohesiveness. “Racist”’s warm piano loop contrasts nicely with SahBabii’s moans that haunt the backend. The spooky synths of “Tongue Demon” separate the track from its benevolent counterparts, but still offer enough familiarity to not stick out like a sore thumb.
When SahBabii’s not doling out hints that he’s armed and dangerous, he likes to spend the majority of Barnacles’ runtime explaining his sexual preferences. Take “Double Dick,” for instance—which happens to be about a gun and his penis—and its zoologically sexy refrain: “Hippo booty bouncin’, Rhino booty bouncin’, Elephant booty bouncin.” Or take “Trapezoid,” which involves him caroling about loving women shaped like the geometric figure. SahBabii’s eyes are rolled back in his head as he visualizes scene after scene of hedonistic joy.
There’s a point when he becomes a little too happy, describing bodily functions that are based in sexual excitement with extreme detail. Without getting into too much detail, he uses “mayonnaise” and “foam” to describe a woman’s arousal level, and he intricately describes a partner’s eyes popping out while he’s pulling her hair. Barnacles earns its explicit rating nearly immediately, and an edited version of its songs would sound like an instrumental.
At a certain point, Barnacles does lose a bit of its bite. When videogame designers create the games that the world buys ten times over, they typically establish a gameplay loop and continuously build new systems on top to prevent players from becoming bored. Barnacles has the gameplay systems in place, but it stops short of adding on enough new features. “House Party,” a fuzzy standout track with brother T3, is by far the most exciting sonic journey, but if you play it next to “Soulja Slim,” which is similarly mid-tempo trap with a dreamy bounce, it’s not too hard to hear how much they are alike—almost as if they were made in the same session. Imagine Grand Theft Auto 5 removing its airplane and boat missions. All you’re left with is walking and driving over the course of its 30-hour runtime.
To enjoy Barnacles, you have to be willing to learn the ins-and-outs of SahBabii’s sexual experiences—regardless of how detailed he is in describing his excursions. The way these diary entries flow into the glitzy soundscape goes a long way to separate SahBabii from his fellow Atlantans—even if its cohesiveness can also be considered a slight weakness. That doesn’t take away from the fact that Barnacles is an all-around, welcome treat of nautical naughtiness. If it’s really his last project, SahBabii could go down as one of the most aroused rappers in the genre’s history.
Trey Alston is a freelance music journalist who’s covered pop culture for Vulture, Complex, MTV News, Pitchfork, and more. When he isn’t writing about the latest releases, he is a copywriter and strategist for labels. Follow him on Twitter.