Barnes: The Last Shall Be First
Marcus Conaway, better known as rapper Nik Barnes, lived in New York and Virginia Beach before calling Baltimore home, but it was here that he linked up with local click Street Official and started building a serious buzz. His debut album, The Last Shall Be First, arrived in April with not only multiple singles in rotation on 92Q but also national distribution from a subsidiary of Universal Records.
Although he trumpets Mid-Atlantic pride on “Middle East,” Barnes drawls about the trap so much that you could be forgiven for mistaking him for an ATLien. “Cadillac” is a riding anthem in the classic Southern tradition, and “A A Nigga” is practically a T.I. pastiche. B-Ill, who produced the lion’s share of recent releases by Mullyman and tha Annexx Click, continues to build his rep by filling Be First with sick beats—and makes sure you know it by shouting his “Banga Bill!” calling card at the beginning of several tracks.
Aside from his current hit, the Baltimore club anthem “Jigglin’ Shorty,” Barnes keeps his lyrical content bleak and unapologetically violent. But the haunting, mournful “Tattoo Tears” featuring Highs-N-Pistol and the melancholy “Bury Me a G” featuring Scola from Dru Hill are far more compelling than “Don’t Say a Word,” a tribute to the timeless art of witness intimidation, or all the gun talk on the rest of the album.