Rookie of the Year is the newest track from up and coming Toronto emcee, lyricist, and producer Sarah Itamah, with an assist from rapper Lörd Isaac. The project was Itamah’s first to grace Spotify’s prestigious Northern Bars playlist, and if her career trajectory stays on course, it’s sure to secure a place in 6ix hip hop canon.
Every part of this track seems designed to grab the listener’s attention and take it hostage — the chorus, introduced at the top, features invasive hi-hats and droning bass which get right in your face. In this section, Itamah channels New York experimental punk rap royalty Princess Nokia, showing restraint with the lyrics here in order to hype up the real meat of the song later.
When it comes time to start flexing, the listener is taken by surprise. Launching into her verses without so much as a glance over her shoulder, Itamah unleashes an intimidating brag sesh. It’s all about her place in the world, how she’s earned it without selling her soul, and how all these other bitches/rappers ain’t shit. It’s explicit in her lyrics and implicit in her flow that she’s better and she knows it.
The vocals have a raw quality to them, which seems to show that Itamah isn’t above getting down and dirty with the rabble, but there’s just a hint of softness there to let you know she’s still having fun. That same softness is also menacing, almost like a warning. I shudder to think of the poor fuck that inspires a real no-holds-barred diatribe from this artist — you’d be cleaning them up with a mop.
Playing off that soft-spoken scare tactic is the featured artist, Lörd Isaac, a Brit who swaggers into his verse with a slow-talking cowboy confidence that is just as attention-grabbing as Itamah’s quickfire boasts and put-downs. Isaac and Itamah both seem like artists secure in their talents. They come across as relaxed even when performing feats of lyrical prowess, and they don’t feel pressured to belabour their points.
There’s a sure-footedness that comes across in this project, especially in the four-word chorus. It’s sort of like “I said what I meant and I meant what I said, end of.” There’s no arguing with this piece — it’s as if Itamah had set out to create documentary evidence of her own worth, and accidentally recorded a banger in the process.
Let me put it this way: when Hillary Clinton reappropriated the term “nasty woman” in the 2016 election, people tried to get it to stick as a hashtag. It didn’t, and was in fact unbearably cringe, but if anyone deserves the title, it’s Itamah, for the sheer power this song has to induce stank face. Honestly, “nasty” doesn’t even cover it. When her flow switches up in the middle, Itamah has the power to have the whole room looking like sad Florence Pugh.
Going forward, I’m hoping Itamah sticks with the almost laconic style she’s developed on this track, and if the beat and feature selection continues on par with her decisions for Rookie of the Year, I think we’re looking at a deadly formula. Not that she needs one, a formula I mean. It’s this artist’s mindset that’s the real threat, and I’m confident we’ll be hearing more evidence of that in the near future.
Written by Colman Brown