Right at the center of Midtown Manhattan, next to the MoMa, sits Ocean Prime steakhouse. It’s an expensive restaurant, perfect for out-of-town businessmen and rich suburban families. I’m here with the Flint rapper Bfb Da Packman, who tells me that it’s his favorite place to eat. He even named a song after it, the Coi Leray-assisted “Ocean Prime,” from Packman’s very good album Fat Niggas Need Love Too, released in June. “Order whatever you want, bro. We chilling,” he assures me, as I worry about how much money we’re going to spend.
Stocky and bespectacled, Packman happens to be one of the funniest dudes rapping right now. He’s known to throw a vivid snack-themed metaphor in the middle of a verse about sex, or food, or both. He’s already made his mark with an intuitive sense of humor that gels nicely with Michigan rap’s punchline-driven delivery. He’s also got an encyclopedic pop-cultural knowledge, making some of his tracks feel like deliriously absurd games of trivia.
Last year, he got his big break with “Free Joe Exotic,’’ a gloriously playful affair that opens with an ominous line: “Trapped the whole winter, scammed for the summer/came to America with dope in her stomach.” From there, he riffs on everything from hating condoms to preferring to sleep with prostitutes, all while making time for a perfectly placed Toni Braxton reference.
And as far as his lyrics go, Packman is at once provocative and self-aware, cartoonishly cutting on himself with lyrics like: “My bitch ’bout to leave me ’cause I’m built like Patrick/I nut super quick and I be weighin’ down the mattress.” His twisted sense of humor, when aimed inward, manages to offer something genuinely refreshing. Rap is a genre of bombast, so it’s rare that you get to hear someone be both self-deprecating and dizzyingly clever. It’s no wonder that Bfb Da Packman is one of the internet’s favorite rappers.
Born Tyree Jawan Thomas, Packman was raised in Flint and lived with his mother, brother, and stepfather. Like many Flint residents, he’s been affected by the city’s ongoing water crisis. “We were all affected by the water crisis. I think my granny, knock on wood, is going to have Alzheimer’s because of that water,” he says, before a sense of duty sets in. “She’s still there. I have to get her out.”
The city has been affected by a concoction of white supremacy and capitalism in all of the familiar ways. Flint has experienced decades of white flight, urban decay, and deindustrialization, all of which has turned the once-promising city into a downtrodden and neglected area. It’s all part of what birthed Packman’s dark sense of humor.
As a teenager, Packman sold drugs as a hustle. It was a needed income stream he says he identified early. “I was trying to make money,” he tells me matter-of-factly as we enjoy our shrimp. After his release from jail following an arrest on drug-related charges, he moved to Houston. Despite leaving everything he knew behind, the city managed to open his eyes to a wider sense of the world. “When I moved to Houston, it was like damn, it was every type of person. Jamaicans, Nigerians, Dominicans, Mexican. I never met a Cuban person before Houston.’’
Fresh out of jail and trying to get by in a new city, he took on an impressive slate of odd jobs. For a while, Pack was a cook, and then he worked at an old folks’ home. “I’m nothing compared to a sixty-year-old black woman from the South,” he recalls. “She gonna make gravy from scratch.’’
At one point, he saw an advertisement for the post office. He applied and got the job. It was the most money he’d ever earned. “When I first got paid, I got the check and was like ‘this is so much.’ I never had that type of money before,” he says. “Everyone else was looking at me and was like ‘this ain’t that much.’’’ Working for the postal service allowed him to use his break time to hone his skills as an MC. “When you are a postman, you are your own boss bro,” he explains. “I’d practice most of the day.’’ One wonders what happened to all that mail.
More than a viral joke rapper, Packman has proven his long-term appeal. June’s Fat Niggas Need Love Too was a progression on his sound. On the album, Packman makes constructive use of the familiar attributes of Michigan rap — dark brooding pianos and bars suitable for a Tracy Jordan joke on 30 Rock (at one point, Packman claims his grandmother has an Only Fans). Underneath the dirty jokes, however, Packman possesses a madcap personality and a charismatic soul. It rubs off on everyone he works with. Benny the Butcher, for example, can’t help but play along with Pack on their collaboration “Frenchman,” making meta jokes about how he is surprised that he hasn’t spent a night with Lizzo yet.
In the same way that rappers like Eminem and Ludacris contrasted the seriousness of their peers at the time, Bfb Da Packman is the more lighthearted side of the Michigan rap coin. The scene has already captivated fans for the past several years, even inspiring a whole Lil Yachty project. But for every handspun tale of street economics served by a Babyface Ray or 42 Dugg, Pack has an equally complex musing about where he could perhaps place his dick. Not every funny rapper is great but all great rappers are funny.