In Chicago, many kids are exposed to two sides of the same coin. There are the joyful traditions, experiences, and summertime fun that define Black childhood in the city. And then there’s “Chiraq,” where G Herbo, born Herbert Wright, saw his first casualty of gun violence when he was just eight years old. It’s where kids and teenagers, already burdened by poverty, get thrust into adulthood after seeing their childhood peers die.
Over the course of five studio albums, G Herbo has explored the feeling of attaining fame even as you’re haunted by past traumas. His double album Survivor’s Remorse is another potent look into his rattled, conflicted psyche that also doubles as a celebration of his 10-year run as one of the most enduring young rappers to come out of Chicago’s drill scene.
G Herbo ups the ante with every release, delivering ferocious and unflinchingly honest raps over explosive, soulful production. Survivor’s Remorse is split by Side A, which features high-energy, mainstream-friendly cuts like the Future-assisted “Blues” and “Flashbacks,” with fellow Chicagoan Jeremih, and Side B, which contains hungrier, more personal songs, like the painfully revealing intro “Sleepless Nights” and the album’s first single, “Me, Myself and I,” with A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie.
Combined with his most stacked guest list since his standout 2020 album, P.T.S.D, Survivor’s Remorse is yet another solid attempt to present a more polished Herbo for the rap mainstream without compromising his roots.
Side A puts Herbo’s brash confidence on full display. It’s where he clearly has the most fun, giving us plenty of tongue-in-cheek cracks (such as a line in “Shaderoom” about his own love life being the frequent topic of the hip-hop blogosphere), while laying his rap hammer down on the boisterous, Offset-assisted “Aye.” But there are vulnerable moments, too, like “Flashbacks,” a masterfully faithful update on Kanye West’s alluring classic “Flashing Lights,” in which Herbo delivers somber bars like “Runnin’ up a billion on my mind, I got time/But time ain’t on my side, I can’t be home, don’t got time/I can’t get no rest in/Every day I’m still stressing ’cause I lost my best friends.”
Side B has a heavier tone, musically and emotionally. “Change (Gun Shots)” connects the gun violence of his youth to fears he still has of being shot, a terror so deep he has to bulletproof his own cars to protect his children. And “Torn” is a powerful internal monologue on grief.
Herbo has always chosen his collaborators well, and that remains true on Survivor’s Remorse. Artists such as Future, Jeremih, Gunna, Young Thug, and A Boogie each do a seamless job of helping him drive home the emotional point of the song, be it head-knocking (“Blues”) or meditative (“Breath Slow”). Herbo holds his own with the likes of Benny the Butcher on “Real Rap” and Conway the Machine on “Machines,” and teams up with producer DJ L for “History,” an update on Herbo and Lil Bibby’s groundbreaking viral hit “Kill Shit.”
There are moments on the album when his wordplay slides off a little, and his attempts to sing fall flat. On Side B’s closer, “Letter to Juice,” his Auto-Tuned crooning distracts from an otherwise poignant letter to his friend, the late superstar Juice WRLD. Survivor’s Remorse arrives at a point where G Herbo is fully emerging as a mainstream star, but one who isn’t afraid to show the world the gruesome scars. As Benny the Butcher chillingly reminds him on “Real Rap,” “Be careful what you wish for, ’cause the paper don’t change grief.” That sense of triumph mixed with loss comes through in every song.
Editor’s Note: You may have noticed that we got rid of the stars on our reviews. If you’re an engaged music fan in 2022, your opinion isn’t going to be defined by some random number. We’ll tell you right away (with some new labels) when a new album is a must-hear or, in rarer cases, an instant classic. After that, our critics will help you make up your own damn mind.