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.

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