Some don’t like “Shabba”

The first WizKid record to get a push in the States looks all right up close; beat is cool, anyway. Viewed from afar it washes into gray. Much as on “One Dance,” WizKid barely appears on the song. Even before French’s deflating “HAHNNN” adlib sends you to the skip button like Pavlov’s dog, the lineup on the box suggests an effort to bury the main artist. And there are too many singers—WizKid+Chris Brown AND Trey Songz? Of course, a great song would make this all irrelevant, but its not even an original concept. Here’s hoping it’s a strategic play for fanbase exposure, because the sound WizKid has been working with is much more exciting than this. And it’s not a sound that needs watering down; it’s capital-p Pop music on its own.

WizKid’s “Like This,” though, is something special. The swirling, high-thread-count production feels extravagant. American pop—extraordinarily stripped down in contrast, even miserly—would never risk the bottom line with something so ornamental. Give us a 140-character hook and keep it simple, stupid. Not to chase “complexity” off the cliff of fetishization—please, no Intelligent Afropop Music—but something about the lavish texture suggests a generosity of spirit alien to these shores ca. 2016. Maybe he’s born with it; maybe it’s Nigeria’s oil wealth. Either way, this is where Afropop’s magic is: not where WizKid reaches us, but where we reach to him.

Litty

Minor slang innovation: “litty” slowly replacing the moribund “lit”and here we have its first theme song. Though I’m agnostic at best on Lil Yachty—his faux-naif ironic childhood fixation is no more interesting to me than it was when tapped by twee indie rock or BuzzFeed—he acquits himself well here over a nice slab of Zaytoven-core. I have difficulty imagining what a Good Lil Yachty project sounds like—my inclination is that it would shake the Bad Irony of Rugrats samples & similar, although I fear that for his fans it would require doubling down on it. But his actual bar-for-bar rapping works narratively on occasion (here, and on Chance the Rapper’s “Mixtape,” for example). I’m very curious how his vision will cohere: even if I am bearish on potential results, he has my attention.

Poncho and Lil Yachty – Litty (2016)

Same Ol Yellow Tape

Plug – Body Bounce (2016)

Much like Young Thug, Plug is a great rap moniker. Plug is from Chicago and has co-written and produced for King Louie, notably on his Play It Again EP—see the great “Sippin”—or on Plug’s own record  “All This Money.” (The latter may remind Gucci stans—Plug is one as well—of a slowed version of GuWop’s “Going In.”)

“Body Bounce” is Plug’s best single to date, though. A flip of Tame Impala’s “Same Ol Mistakes”—Plug recorded this song before Rihanna released her cover, or Childish Gambino used it to promote his new TV show—the sample works great for a counterintuitive drill record about dropping bodies. There’s def a disturbing Mozzy-esque aspect to its uber-violent content. But Plug has a bit of that sly straight-faced humor (“trap awards got Plug name in the envelope”) a la Louie or Gucci to dab it with a bit of humanity. Generally, his wordplay is quite enjoyable, subtly funny but without hammering home punchlines or undercutting its seriousness for the purposes of humor.

Fantasy remix lineups accepted here: Gucci would obviously kill it and should jump on board ASAP, if his team knows what they’re doing.

Hmm maybe CupcakKe is going to sign to OVO

cupcakkedrake

Irony is great in music except when it isn’t.

Good Irony tends to be deployed strategically, to a pointed purpose: “Girlfriend in a Coma” by the Smiths; many lyrics in the collected works of Gucci’s Mane, cf the coy affect of “Crush On You”; CupcakKe’s social media output, ie an Instagram of her standing in front of Lake Michigan captioned “my pussy smells like the sea behind me.”

Bad Irony is mean spirited, but vacuous. Like irony generally, it draws a line between those who get it and those who don’t. But Bad Irony is imprecise; it cultivates a generalized Knowing sensation, its purpose diffused in a cloud of vague implication. It is unearned; rather than a byproduct of creativity or cleverness, it is generated cheaply. Say, through heavy-handed juxtaposition—don’t you see, Spooky Black is wearing a du rag…but he’s WHITE—or aesthetic half-steps, to avoid anything so risky as having fully embodied an idea or emotion.

It smothers with ubiquitous smugness. Like too much cilantro, it drowns out other flavors. It’s also difficult to criticize, slippery by nature—it’s an anti-stance. I don’t think you “get it,” bro. It relies on our fear of being out of the loop—of not having intuited that which is obvious to everyone else, or at least anyone who “matters.” Anyone who “matters,” of course, has power; Bad Irony pulls the drawbridge up on those who don’t.

(A common source of Bad Irony may be a thin emulation of the in-group/outward facing double-consciousness of, say, Black America’s relationship to White America. Not that Bad Irony is solely the domain of whites. But consider the need of Post Malone to cultivate an “ironic” shield for his audience in order to sell his version of Chief Keef’s melodic rap style. Keef’s hooks aimed universal, while his mumbled verses were opaque, dense with references to local gang life. Seductive and forbidding, many listeners felt themselves excluded and magnetized at once. Post Malone follows a parallel, if less convincing, in-group/outward dynamic—universal hooks and winks to those in the audience who “get it”—in this case, “get” the irony of his cultural costume.)

Ultimately, Bad Irony contradicts its intentions. In an effort to convey savviness, it telegraphs insecurity, letting the fear of looking foolish cripple aesthetic possibility.

This is not a problem for CupcakKe. Her new tape S.T.D.: Shelters to Deltas uses it confidently, prudently. (One might compare it with the one-note Ramriddlz tape from last year or whenever, which had a similar sexual fixation but winked so much you’d think he had a split contact lens or twitch.) There’s a good balance: her outward image, hidden behind sunglasses and grinning nonstop, promises a silly lightheartedness which is immediately contradicted by her bold, unfiltered vocals, technical abilities, lyrical creativity, and autobiographical depth. And this is in turn balanced by her carnal obsessions, at turns cartoonish and realistic and humorous and ironic.

Her debut Cum Cake may be better—it had more breadth, with better choruses, was more well-rounded. S.T.D. also has some strange mixing issues. But highlight “Doggy Style” is one of her best songs to date, something like a tropical house version of LL Cool J’s “Doin It” (which, full circle, sounds quite a bit like the Grace Jones original) with a chorus in which she barks like a dog. And despite the ridiculous conceit, it’s executed with total conviction, the kind of thing no Bad Ironist would ever allow—what if you look foolish? If Bad Irony is about fear and insecurity, safely fencing in its audience, CupcakKe’s boldness is a signal of profound self-belief. Rather than excluding outsiders, she dares them to come along; she leads.

Good rap knows no play counts.

Chris Crack’s Troll Til They Fold is a great project, though not substantially better than other recent efforts. I can’t tell if my ear has gradually adjusted to his rap style or if each tape improves upon the previous. Probably both. There is a sense of incremental refinement over time in both his rapping and songwriting. He’s a craft-driven rapper, one whose art evolves in plain view. The songs are shaped by the bars rather than vice versa; these are not pop records maximized for radio, although as time has passed it has become obvious his work contains the germs of real hits. For what that’s worth.

(Strangely for an artist whose sound is so shaped by late ’90s lyrical battle rap in a Lyricist Lounge vein, it also suggests the influence of Max B, songwriter—check the sing-song chorus of funky highlight “Pine Cones.” And the high-pitched acerbic style has roots in the Pimp C/Eazy E lineage, to my ears, more than the boring Nas-derived canon accorded automatic respect by rap reactionaries, which may explain his failure to make inroads among Your Old Droog fans.)

His success may require a pendulum swing back to the oppositional approach of the late ’90s, where critics and fans cheerlead artists without the expectation that they scale to infinity. In this new streaming hegemony, viral songs don’t need our support. If we can relax, stop pretending to feel equally passionate about every single hip-hop hit that takes off—not that the impulse to populism is bad, but the enthusiasm often feels paper-thin and indiscriminate. I have no problem with folks digging Dae Dae’s Nitti-produced “Wat U Mean” (it’s dope Nitti has hits in the bag) but it basically sounds like the ninth best song on a 2009 Gucci mixtape and it’s tough to believe everyone feels that excited about it, all things being equal.

Of course songs dont need to perform an auteur dance to be worth celebrating. But rap auteurs who don’t readily fit the tropes of political righteousness face an uphill battle if The People aren’t behind them. Chris Crack is not an exceedingly popular rapper but he is a good one and I hope people make space for such a distinct stylist in an era of paint-by-number MCs with chart ambitions.

The best record on Troll Til They Fold is “Menace to Sobriety,” which has a great verse-chorus in a “Ha”/”Choices” style. It’s two and a half minutes long, because Chris Crack makes hit records that won’t be hits. I hope it gets a remix.

Ladies First

How XXL managed to include both a token New Yorker and token white rapper but no women on their cover this year is a mystery, especially because Dave East and Lil Dicky have never had a song as good as Dreezy’s “Body.” And while Dreezy admittedly has yet to live up the promise of her scene-stealing cameo on “Break a Band,” she’s still a beast, as evidenced by her GuWop collab “We Gon Ride.” The shit already earned more rewinds than any Dave East or Lil Dicky record in history & not just because Gucci sounds invested in his verses again.

It’s impossible to know whether Gucci will stick to a strict policy of all-killer-no-filler cosigns—perhaps he’s minutes from a Post Malone remix. (I do not acknowledge the forgettable Kanye posse cut.) But his first big guest spots have been for Kodak Black and Dreezy, which suggest there’s been some forethought into which new generation artists he’s willing to endorse after the bleak Yung Lean “cameos” of the incarceration era.

Queen Key is a Chicago rapper who has that funny understated conversational rap style familiar to Big Tymers or Project Pat fans worldwide. I love “Baked As a Pie” thanks in part to its “Slob on my Knob”-esque song title, her dual fixations of weed and oral sex, and the part where she fills two full bars with the words “fuck” and “shit.”

Baked as a pie
And yo n***** ask me, “Why?”
I’m like bitch, cuz I’m high
It don’t matter why I’m high
Fuck
Shit
Ain’t nobody finna die
That’s what I tell my granny every time she see my eyes.

Her bulletproof attitude is very invigorating, gives me the confidence to feel extreme disdain towards lesser mortals on records like Sasha Go Hard collab “Been a Fan” or “Exposed” (“Face always in my pussy so we don’t see eye to eye.”)

As many of you doubtless know already, I’m an unrepentant CupcakKe stan, to the extent that I know the second “k” in “CupcakKe” is stylized in upper case. She is my favorite new rapper this year in part because she’s a better writer than any new rapper and in part because of her persona which… I don’t have a complete handle on it yet & I’m not sure she does either (she only just turned 19) but it is some kind of grinning camp court jester-type vibe as portrayed in the above video “Like a Snapback.” Her outward mask is one of deranged joy but then her bars are bluntly honest and precise, it’s very intriguing.

For an artist whose success has been driven mainly by explicit sex raps her mixtape Cum Cake shows so much breadth as an artist. Still I don’t mind that she’s focused on freaky raps as long as they are honest; even when covering a well-worn subject her punchlines make you wonder how it’s possible no one in the history of three-decade-old art form discovered them previously.

Her “debut album” S.T.D.: Shelters to Deltas comes out in three days

I’m Ready

Today Mozzy released Mandatory Check, a tape I’ll write up elsewhere. The short version is: it’s good, but not a huge step forward, liable to bring new folks on board but only those predisposed to dig him. It’s also pretty bleak—have you heard this about him? One of the ways he makes all the Serious Bad Feeling shit hit a little harder is by surrounding it with a smidgen of sunlight, as if to underline the discomfort, keeping his art unpredictable, and drawing attention to how unaffected he is by the blood. See his recent collaboration with Hus Mozzy and SF-based street rapper G-Val, “Red Mob.”

This song (from Hus Mozzy’s Mozzy is the Motive) is pretty listenable. Although not really more than an enjoyable curio from the Mozzy catalog (to the extent that a song w/ the lyric “shells from the SK chewin your cheeks” can be considered enjoyable), it liberally samples Kano’s “I’m Ready,” a classic late ’70s floor filler that sounds good accompanied by anything this side of Chuck Klosterman reciting Doritos ingredients.

Luciano Ninzatti, Stefano Pulga, and Matteo Bonsanto formed Kano in 1979 at the beginning of a movement that would become known as Italo-Disco, because it was disco made in Italy. It tended towards the artificial, the electronic, and the cheesy; it inspired maybe a decade of hipster rediscovery in the 2000s, mainly tedious nights in which the mood is non-stop “uppers” with little sense of ebb or flow. The first time I heard Kano was filtered through Tag Team’s “Whoomp! There It Is.” But it’s been used several other times throughout hip-hop history, including Mac Dre’s “Adventures of Al Boo Boo” and Devin the Dude’s “Party” (“I love my chicken fried, my women wide, GMC trucks is all I ride”).