A couple years ago when talking about who’d he work with on his second album, Triple F Life, Waka stated all he needed was Southside, currently head of the 808 Mafia crew, and Lex Luger. Waka put an emphasis on remaining loyal to his team of collaborators—sans Gucci Mane, so even Chaz Gotti is featured and shouted out his newest mixtape Re-Up. Despite this claim of crew love, there aren’t any beats from Lex Luger on this tape and the best songs are arguably the ones 808 Mafia’s Southside didn’t work on.
“How I’m Rockin’” strikes me as a great song on the mixtape and there’s something to London on the Track and Waka’s combination. The depth in London’s sound facilitates Waka’s venture into more refined melodies and flows than his go-to team 808 Mafia. It’s as simple as development requires new surroundings and soundscapes, which London on the Track and Metro Boomin are providing. Maybe I’m just reaching to get another “My Life“-type collaboration in the future.
For better or worse, Waka Flocka Flame has been flowing and rhyming more and yelling and “Dem Gun Sounds” mimicking less. Energy is never in shortage here, which is the least one could ask from Waka. Thankfully, Re-Up is a sweet and short mixtape. There are tracks like “Lottery” that would be boring if there wasn’t as much yelling. It’s a track I could picture this being a song by Plies, a rapper who has tried to reinvent to reinsert himself into the rap discussion with little success. Young Thug is a highlight on “Ain’t No Problem” but it’s interesting that Waka is pretty comfortable within Thugger’s weirdness. But he able to puts everything together on “Word to the Wise,” where his energy via loudness and adlibs sounds as if Waka is almost out of breath half way through the two verses on the song. The song used a beat from rising producer Metro Boomin of “Karate Chop” fame, a selection that shows Waka is still keeping up with the current rap landscape.
The thing I’d like to know is if this mixtape is eleven songs short to be a compact, quality over quantity offering. There are interesting features from Young Thug, Too Short, Young Scooter which lead you to believe there was thoughtful selection. Especially compared to Roaches to Rollies, which mostly featured other Brick Squad Monopoly artists; on the other hand, Re-Up unfortunately ends with songs that are just overproduced demos.
Talent has never been important for a lasting rap career. The key is even less tangible, but far more valued: Persona, either on or off the record or preferable both. Unfortunately Que struggling to prove he has either.
Titled Who is Que?—a SEO for-pay rap release, genius—the brief EP doesn’t give much time to answer that question. “OG Bobby Johnson” was the single that justified why what was originally announced as a mixtape turned into an EP, but it wasn’t his first “hit.” Last year with the still just buzzing Migos, Que got a hit with “Young Nigga,” a song of that repeated the title phrase to a point of extreme meaning. There was a kind of an inclusion that appear in the track, as if it was really only meant to be for his #newatlanta rapper and producer friends. The song was a basement recording studio anthem that made far too much sense in clubs and cars.
The same crew love aspect applied to “OG Bobby Johnson,” which is named after the song’s lone producer, Bobby Johnson. Unlike the looseness of “Young Nigga,” “OG Bobby Johnson” shows Que as a rapper whose commitment to rap might be a little too much. Where some songs falter after a verse or have a bum line, Que doesn’t allow for that to happen, so the technetronic beat is given equally robotic verses that lock into place. Perfect singular song, but is a hard style to keep interest and successfully repeat. But Que still tries. “From the Jump” and “Time” are stilted triplet rhyming patterns that can be grating with the three members of Migos and certainly so for solo artist. Que and Migos on “Young Nigga” did have something really spark, which Migos picked up and made flourish, but Who is Que? cannot make that connection.
In 2016, Barack Obama will have his last term as president concluded. On the very first track of Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2, Vince Staples snarls dismissively at our first black president, smearing him as a “house nigger” in a nasally “nyah nyah” of a voice that perfectly conveys the disrespect he wants the words to mean. It’s one of many drips of venom the Los Angeles native offers up on his latest offering.
For the past few years Vince Staples has been a slow-burning flame. Initially a generic hipster rapper, he showed promise and a cruel sense of humor that allowed him to fit well at home with his compatriots Earl Sweatshirt and Mike G on their early Odd Future mixtape debuts. However, his first tape, Shyne Coldchain Vol. 1 was a surprising departure from the rape fantasies and juvenilia of his former peers. Coinciding with the rise of the “trillwave” aesthetics’ fascination with 90s gangster rap, and aided immensely by the fluidic productions of Two-9 affiliate Snubnose Frankenstein; Staples began to be beholden to the ghosts of rap legends past, marrying his humor to the imagery of decades ago. A simple change of costume, abandoning post-Tyler crewnecks for Raider-cosplay flannel, but it made a world of difference.
Since then, Vince has maintained a significant presence with a guest verse on Earl’s “Hive,” and collaborating on whole projects with producers Michael Uzowaru and Mac Miller, under his “Larry Fisherman” alias. 2014 finds the next installment of his Shyne Coldchain series bolstered by production from No I.D., Evidence & DJ Babu and Scoop DeVille. Everything is in place for the young Staples to ascend and claim his rightful place in the spotlight, except for one significant flaw: he has no interest in trying to catching anyone’s attention.
Blame is not solely the fault of Staples. No I.D. produced some of the most uninspired, dull “hip-hop” beats in years. Polished and clean, they provide little more than retro-leaning pomp, offering little dynamic for Vince to toy with. Whereas whenever the other producers flex their work, you see a significant effort from Staples to negotiate much more delicate samples and sounds. Considering that I.D. handles a bulk of the production on this tape however, you’re left with massive gaps of draining, trench-crawling from our antagonist as he snipes away at the world.
This dynamic isn’t the worst thing in the world, as plenty of rappers have turned the “me against the world” mentality into a universal saga. But Staples lacks the charisma to carry this weight. He’s skilled at his evocative sadistic nature, describing people as “candles on the concrete” or muttering how ‘”church only makes you worse.” Yet his voice lacks dynamic or variation, turning into an irritating drone that needles at the listener. Staples has passed on inviting fellow rappers on his project, leaving the only deviations from his oppressive will in the form of the occasional breaching R&B singer (Jhene Aiko, James Fauntleroy). Surely Vince isn’t devoid of confidence, yet Shyne Coldchain Vol. 2 seems hexed with a severe case of rapper’s ego, as he is uncommitted to anything but his own ever-insular world.
Vince Staples is at a curious position in the rap game: most of his peers as far as frequent association have already become phased out from their “next big thing” status, with few maintaining more than an underground audience. On this tape, his scope seems to be narrowing into a magnified sense of tunnel vision put on specific details, but unable to look beyond such a narrow frame. It’s an intense journey that he’s going on, but he isn’t concerned about helping anyone along his path.
If 2012 was the year that “Drill (music genre)” ran rampant, snatching up all eyes towards Chicago as the next “big thing” in rap, then 2014 feels like the hangover. The Chicago youths moved to Bop and it’s sonic and emotional innocence, where now most Drill stars have spent their chips devoid of ideas, if they ever had any to begin with. Curiously enough, however, only two Drill acts appear to have delivered official debut albums. One is obviously enough Chief Keef, the poster boy of Chicago rap for the mainstream world, and the other is the least likely act to follow: Lil Mouse.
Since his viral hit “Get Smoked,” Mouse has remained a key figure despite a comparatively limited output. Naturally the sight of prepubescent youth backed by goons discussing the same street shit of his older peers seemed like simple “shock factor.” Yet Lil Mouse continued to collaborate with figures both in and out the Chicago scene with the release of his debut Michael Mouse Myers to show this wasn’t all merely a trend hopping cash-in attempt.
Lil Mouse is no longer worth noticing for his actual baby-face, but now instead it’s his skill set. While “Get Smoked” at best is a noxious ear-worm, Mouse Myers’ intro is an absolute thunderstorm. Deploying dense flows and a technique that would leave your average Tech N9ne fan moderately impressed given the source, Mouse easily surpasses his idol Lil Durk’s detached cold Meek Mill impersonations. One has to marvel at intensity from a rapper, whose career could’ve easily been mistake for a cheap gimmick a year ago.
But after the remix of “My Team” from last year that featured Durk an especially jubilant Young Scooter, the album’s patchiness is revealed. Dull hooks, generic flows borrowed from Keef or Durk, gaudy singers take and beats that range from startlingly forward (“She Going”) to woefully generic (“Came Up”), unfortunately take up the rest of the album. It’s a highly professional effort, working hard to establish him as a serious rapper, but it’s incredibly undercooked and just plainly lacking in presence and quality.
One’s expectations for someone of Lil’ Mouse’s age and stature in his scene might be dreaming the impossible dream. But the more discouraging matter is the severity of the gaps between his highs and lows. Lil Mouse has the potential, if he truly dedicates himself, to make himself into his generation’s Lil Wayne (something Dewayne might’ve recognized himself, given the remix of “Get Smoked” served as a distant acknowledgment of the other’s significance). Unfortunately he also has the ability to prove skeptics right and remain a Worldstar-casualty. And with the clock starting to wind down on his niche, Lil Mouse has to decide how to evolve and age gracefully into a rapper to watch.
Hip-hop is happy to rewrite and revise its own history. It’s a culture that devotes support to who yelled last and who was the loudest to do so. A lot of people never get their dues and outside of a few savvy supporters’ fandom, never will. Sometimes those who once yelled loudest are written out regardless. We shrug off the unseemly and the creepy, a culture’s selective memory at work.
Suge Knight is somebody that hip-hop culture turned on. It’s also not hard to tell why the culture turned on him; he remains the genre’s poster boy for hubris. Suge’s violent tactics and linebacker-sized ego were as elemental to Death Row’s downfall as it was to their uprising. Though hip-hop can easily root and cheer on a villain, Knight did not appear to be a character as he was upfront about his Blood connections and famed for his strong-arm tactics. When Death Row fell apart, Suge descended into a vortex of unsuccessful label reboots and TMZ-era villainy that he’s never really bounced back from.
So it comes as a surprise to hear the 90s version of Suge brought back to life at the start of Max Minelli’s recent mixtape Dope Boy Chad. Minelli–a long-time Young Bleed affiliate and Baton Rouge mainstay since the late Nineties–is a passable rapper, the type to enunciate the most mundane bars (“I put on for my city like Jeezy” reappears countless times) in a wonderfully sticky drawl. The instrumentals he chooses are meant to evoke particular pangs of nostalgia: the synthetic regality of early T.I., Boosie-esque fury, the Spanish guitars of Ja Rule’s slow jams. Yet Suge hangs over the tape.
“Dopeboy TV (Intro)” flashes between nuggets of d-boy specialisms and TV static, a sure signal of nostalgia, before arriving at Suge’s infamous speech from the 94 Source Awards. That speech fanned the flames of the East/West conflict, with Suge and Snoop causing a tense New York crowd to nearly explode. You know the moment from clip shows and from having even a passing interest in hip-hop’s history: “the executive producer all in the videos, dancin‘” et cetera. Minelli decides to let the entirety of Knight’s speech play out, and the fact that he thanks God and “my entire Death Row family” at the beginning came to me as a surprise: it’s a moment of faith and unity that humanizes the Death Row owner, an acknowledgement that I was unaware had even been said, a moment erased from the record for not being juicy enough. For a moment, you can bond with Suge Knight as a relatable human being proud of his success rather than a tyrannical ogre.
Minelli allows the ogre to live again, cursing the Bad Boy empire and drawing a line in the sand. In the current super friends era of hip-hop—an era where people lost their shit over Kendrick naming names out of respect –that speech sounds more unhinged. Suge fans the flames with wild abandon, sneering and mocking the crowd; drinking in the boos directed at the stage. The very moment where Suge yells “come to Death Row!” is edited and replaced with a bellow of “come to Crook Muzik Creme Team!”, a cute effort to paint Minelli’s clique as a new Death Row. Its placement at the head of Minelli’s tape shows that there are people that still sympathize and admire Knight’s hard-headedness, his desire to promote realness and strike fear in the hearts of his competitors. It functions to remind people that despite his diminished role in the hip-hop pantheon, Suge Knight still matters to people: not as a warning but as a gully inspiration.
The obvious term is “Ratchet & B.” That’s what Jeff Weiss coined talking about TeeFlii early last year, when his mix of YG raunch and The-Dream’s slyness sounded a bit more unique if not wholly original. A year later: TeeFlii is on a major label, Ty$ got his own Top 40 hit and the minimalist Cali sound that seemed so limited before has found its way across the country. History is usually not too kind to forced genre names—reveals “Witch House” tattoo—but “Ratchet & B” feel right for these strip club, sex obsessed tunes that beg for summer sun after this polar-vortexed winter.
“2 AM (Young California Remix)” – Adrian Marcel (feat. Problem & Sage the Gemini): Problem and Sage the Gemini are two guys whose careers could easily subsist on R&B singles and being those “California Ratchet Guys.” Not that they haven’t created excellent music on their own, but their respective personas only need 16 bars to shine. This “2 AM” remix from the young singer Adrian Marcel proves this fact, because while I’ve been told that Marcel is one to lookout for, the late-night minimalism here fits effortless rapping far too well. And, I’ll admit this might just be myself, but there is a very “Chill Out” vibe to “2 AM” that almost hints at Owl City, which a place I never thought I’d desire R&B to approach.
“2 On” – Tinashe (feat. Schoolboy Q): To keep chucking up 2s, here is Tinashe’s “2 On” with a sadly leaned out Schoolboy Q. But no amount of mediocre rapping can hold back this immaculate single. DJ Mustard’s production and Tinashe’s suave recall less Cassie’s “Me & U,” but one of Diddy’s late 2000s singles which had a sonic tinge of one too many shots of Ciroc. But, Tinashe isn’t dealing with love lost, she’s faded with her clique on a mission and DJ Mustard and Schoolboy Q are just buzzed along for the ride.
“24 Hours” – TeeFlii (feat. 2 Chainz): The good and bad column for TeeFlii is pretty even. On the Pro-side is that hooks practically form from him just saying any phrase; on the Negative-side is that he leans on repeating certain words (“Annie”) to a point of obnoxious meaninglessness. “24 Hours” leans on his strength, where nearly every line could be its own hook and it doesn’t hurt DJ Mustard’s beat is only a side-step away from his biggest 2014 hit “Show Me.” And just in case future radio listeners want to be even more confused by this potential hit, 2 Chainz verse regurgitates a number of lines from previous songs. Ratchets don’t need originality.
“Do It To Ya” – YG (feat. TeeFlii): The way that 2010s rap has started to cannibalize its own history could be a cause for concern for the genre that traditionally treats history as an unwanted used napkin but that isn’t the case here. DJ Mustard swiping The Dogg Pound’s “Let’s Play House,” reduces down the song to just a few piano chord and snaps to distinguish it from the suave of the original. And while TeeFlii might have the unfortunate task of repeating “do it to ya,” YG even on his major label debut remains a going down first kind of nigga. *praying hands emoji*
“Drop It” – Trevor Jackson (feat. B.o.B.): This is probably the least “R&B” song on this list and honestly fits closer to the more party oriented Ratchet songs I discussed a couple months ago. “Drop It” doesn’t have the personality of “Paranoid,” the fucking perfect sample of “Show Me,” or even the star-studdedness—Chris Brown and Lil Wayne—of “Loyal,” B.o.B. doesn’t count. But, Trevor Jackson, again could there be a less star-ready name, has an effective song though not thrilling song that unfortunately cannot keep up with its sonic brethren on the radio right now.
“Na Na” – Trey Songz: There are a number of sonic tics that give away a DJ Mustard song. The “Ha” chants, the drums, the way that the subject matter seems to be invoking a strip club no matter the artist. Not that Trey Songz hasn’t relished a kind of Post-R. Kelly kind of sleaze (see: every time attempts to rap), it’s just that with a Mustard beat everything gets an intentional, or maybe not, layer of grime. The song isn’t a great Mustard or Songz single, but it’s an interesting show of form in just how malleable a singer and a producer can be for a specific sonic moment.
“Or Nah” – Ty$ (feat. Wiz Khalifa & DJ Mustard): Ty$ already has a one Top 40 single with the insta-classic “Paranoid.” “Or Nah” doesn’t have the immediate narrative conceit that makes “Paranoid” so repeatable even after one knows “that having two bitches in the club” cannot be a good idea. Instead the song leans on the other strength of Ty$ as a songwriter is that he understands how is voice can linger to string out a song’s hook. The song takes on a smoked-out conversation where our narrator is either talking to a woman, or maybe just himself, once he asks a question like “you gonna make these eggs cheesy or nah?”
“Slide Through” – Rayven Justice: First off shout to site owner and untouchable random regional hit finder, David Drake with mentioning this over at Complex last week. Somewhere between an YG mixtape deep cut and John Hart’s “Who Booty,” this song again shows the kind of amped up bro-ness of these “Ratchet & B” songs. A hook that interpolates C-Murder’s “My Niggas,” which has become an almost foundational text for this current rap generation, and a silk smooth beat makes this worth every listen after the first two dozen.
“$nitches” – Lupe Fiasco (feat. Ty$): Lupe Fiasco at one point rapped on a major label rap album from the perspective of a hamburger. Though Fiasco has been a strong rapper for over a decade and his sneaky ear for pop hooks, which he and others would likely deny, has been lose recently with him too caught up in his own #twitterdeep thoughts. “$nitches” isn’t a Rashomon like tale of black love instead it’s a 5pm three drinks deep convo amongst the bros talking shit and scheming about the opposite sex. Uplifting or conscious-minded this isn’t. Enjoy the Cali weed, a cold Lime-a-rita while relaxing with those closest to ya.
A few months ago visiting a friend at school, and we went out to a bar where Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” was played over and over and over again. I’ve already written about the song before, but each time I hear it fills it with a fresh context. Since coming back home for spring break I’ve heard “Dark Horse” multiple times on the radio, the first time on a late night mix, where I assumed it would just be the Juicy J verse, but nope the entire song played. Then on an afternoon countdown segment where it appearing right after Rich Homie Quan’s “Walk Through” and K. Camp’s “Cut Her Off,” which made my mind melt just a bit.
Despite the Clear Channelification of terrestrial radio, there is still a unique character that can shine through certain stations. Charlotte’s Power 98 (WPEG) has a strong lean towards R&B, which I’ve heard more Marcus Houston than probably any one person would like to have heard, but it also means that in 2014 there is a number of Ratchet&B singles on the station’s playlist. But, where does Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” fit into that station? It doesn’t.
The song with Juicy J and produced by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Cirkut was an attempt at “Trap (electronic genre),” which somehow claims roots in “Trap (rap genre).” But that variation of Rap at best right now is floundering as California is stealing the shine away from Atlanta; so while people were quick to yell “Versace Versace Verse,” DJ Mustard and Ty$ are the ones with the Billboard Pop hits to back up their urban radio spins. Yet “Dark Horse” has found a way onto at least this rap station’s playlist. This could be the post-“Royals” effect starting to show, as that young New Zealand singer got a hit that read as “rap” even though sonically it sounded like nothing else on rap radio, see also how “Team” has receive no rap/R&B station airplay. “Royals” wasn’t the only hit, as “23” by Mike Will Made and Miley Cyrus was another white girl rap track that rap stations fully embraced.
A song produced by one of the biggest white American pop stars, produced by some of the biggest pop producers in the world and featuring a rapper who’s had at least three career revivals is suddenly “rap.” And Kanye didn’t put out any singles for Yeezus on the radio for what reason.
Despite its long rap history, Chicago has recently experienced a youthful surge of emcees that are still forming into their musical identities. Katie Got Bandz is the queen of drill with the ability to energize a party, Mikey Dollaz is the guy who sometimes sounds slightly disinterested but can really turn up the sinister on the most melodramatic of beats, Tink is the dual rapping and singing threat who is always negotiating the divide between tough and tender, and King Louie is rapper who happens have an ear for production that helps define a city’s sonic scene. While a number of other rappers are still carving out their space, this generation of Chicago rap have proved themselves to be worthwhile additions to the Chicago rap canon regardless of their age.
Dreezy’s Schizo makes the point that Dreezy is the rapper’s rapper, a MC with impeccable flow and dizzying bars. While the current preference for “femcees” seems to lean towards those good at both singing and rapping—Nicki Minaj, Angel Haze, Azealia Banks, even Tink—Dreezy’s moments of shine are when she’s focused on rapping.
This comes across very plainly in the up-and-down quality of the mixtape. Dreezy gives acceptable efforts on sung choruses, but her most memorable hooks remain the rap ones. “Break a Band,” her late 2012 collaboration with Mikey Dollaz shows up here towards the end of the tape, as the repetition of “I break a band” rockets off into space. Elsewhere, her emphatic “ain’t for none!” and the zooms of “zero” are ready-made for rocking back and fist-pumping forth. It’s much better than the listless, auto tune reliant fare of “Lonely,” “Bad Habit” and “Truth Hurts,” which truly drag in their sung bits. Her vocal limitations drag down the songwriting and lyricism during these parts, but there are popping moments in the rap bits before being dragged down to earth by their generic hooks.
On the other hand, Dreezy emerges as a full-blown artist when she’s rapping. From the impressive display on “Break A Band,” Dreezy’s taken time to try different flows with her voice, all at the same time improving the variety of subject material and thematic content. She snarls on “All the Time,” forcefully spitting out swagger, but can still slow up with “Mind Games,” a surprisingly tender track about an aloof boy that has Dreezy changing up her flow and delivery with total ease. “Heard It All” is generically silly during the sung hook, but the verses are great, with really fantastic moments including using the double meaning of “under cover” and a slew of ad-libs brimming with personality like “duh,” “nope,” and “yaaaaaa.”
The most successful attempt at branching out is “Dreamer Pt. 2,” which explores a different subject without feeling false to Dreezy as a whole. Turning inwards to explore herself, it’s the inspirational rap song that Angel Haze wishes she could have had on Dirty Gold, using her personal goals, aspirations, and details as a vehicle to tell a narrative about her macro environment. Dreezy rounds her story with vividly specific imagery of herself (“blue jeans, Jordans, kinda cute but can still spit mean”), plainly articulating the problems she faces as a female rapper without essentializing them (“they say women don’t make it unless they on their knees so I got down on my knees, started praying, god please”), while at the same time grounding herself at the place she’s called home (“I put my dad to sleep next to a Bible”).
Chicago, and no other city, is what gives these rappers such strong material to take with them into the recording booth. They understand the constant negotiation within the city’s textured hip hop scene much better than any web documentary about “Chiraq.” Dreezy drops specific local references to Lil Kemo and boppin’, Stack or Starve, and Harold’s Chicken on “Zero” showing that these kids might just be figuring out who they are, but they’re doing a hell of a better job than the adults
As someone who has curated separate Brick Squad and Odd Future playlists, 2014’s current strain of rap cliques leave a bit to be desired. In the 90s, big gun rap groups and labels were duly recognized as empires, defined by particular sonic qualities and iconic visual aesthetics. Today we have conglomerates, defined by little but the prospect of merging artists together with little interest for united fronts. Recent rumors that Young Thug—the ascendant ATLien who broke through by aligning with Brick Squad—could be signing over to Cash Money caused concerned bellyaching in pockets of the internet rap fandom.
Brick Squad, Cash Money, Young Money, MMG, GOOD Music, Grand Hustle and Coke Boys: all defined by their leaders’ star power and a bustling assemblage of young bucks attempting to find a voice. These are not quite vanity labels and, at the same time, not really artistic unions—they rest somewhere in-between branding opportunities for occasional tax write-off compilations and BET cipher appearances. Why anybody would be concerned about Thugga’s possible acquisition by Cash Money seems confusing, as he’s merely switching over from one hazily-drawn “team” to another. If rap is beginning to become more and more like wrestling, then Young Thug is currently Sting, flipping from NWO faction to NWO faction in a matter of moments.
Young Thug’s “Stoner” has been privy to plenty of beatjacks ever since it began to look like a hit. Plenty of the rappers jacking “Stoner” have come off looking unfortunate, unsure whether to sing, rap or gargle their way over Dun Deal’s trap psychedelia. (Pour one out for Jadakiss, yikes.) Kool AD, once the louche/loose half of Das Racist, jumps on “Stoner” at the beginning of the recent tape, Coke Boys, a loose eight song collection recorded in German hotel rooms with the Seattle multi-hyphenate Kassa Overall. It should be a train wreck, but AD taps into a strain of Thugga’s drawling weirdness by rambling and laughing and morphing voices through his verses: “crushing a bag of the cookies and bagging and tagging the rookies and racking and macking and packing a mac in the back of the ac / yakkedy-yak… / Ohmygod ohmygod oh – my – god”. He doesn’t feel like D4L’s Fabo, as the original’s refrain states, but he’s just as high.
AD and Overall’s take on “Stoner” sets a precedent for the rest of Coke Boys 5, with popular instrumentals given the type of off-kilter humor expected from an ex-Das Racist member. A big element of this humor lies in the familiar drops that litter the tape at every turn: Jessica Gomes purring “Maybach Music,” DJ Khaled bellowing his presence, Shadoe Haze’s immortal “DAMN SON, WHERE’D YOU FIND THIS?!” The tracks pile on mixtape-era drops to an inch within overkill—the “Trapaholics!” drop utterly buries final track “Saucier”—which seems to be the point. As always with Kool AD, this functions as the skewering that only a fan could offer, the type of fandom that can find you dryly running through a series of familiar tags over the “UOENO” instrumental (“Holiday Season. LA Leakers. Gangsta Grillz.”) and dropping Young Chop’s name repeatedly over a twenty year-old RZA beat. The repetitive approach functions as pure stoner humor, an acknowledgement of the drop’s absurd nature that few artists care to poke fun at. (Wale’s intro to French Montana’s “Everywhere We Go” – “MMG, Bad Boy, Coke Boys, BOA, that’s a lotta letters but fuck-it” – is a rare anomaly.) It also functions as a reminder that these terms are interchangeable and barely mean anything in 2014: they just function as audible banner ads on mp3s. The funniest and smartest drop comes at the end of the aforementioned ‘UOENO’ jack, where Akon’s holler of “Konvict Music” appears. It’s a sign of a time long past, a brand name that means as much today as Crystal Pepsi. It’s funny, but also a little sad, because each one of these drops could easily fade away as quickly as Akon’s vanity label did. You won’t find that on the Internet.
Somewhere in the apocalyptic seas of violence on Worldstar, a clip exists of an YG show from a few years back in San Diego. The clip consists of brief moments of the rapper performing, then him and his team square off against a group of gangbangers in the audience. Then chairs, stun guns, human bodies and the gold towers for the velvet rope at the club’s entrance are being flung around with casual abandon. It was something out of some video game that sold 5 billion copies so kids could just blow shit up for hours, eloquences about such things are hard to maintain. Thankfully, Keenan Jackson doesn’t suffer this plight.
My Krazy Life practically defies any expectations about people’s perceptions of the former jerk rapper turned godfather of the “Ratchet,” because the devils in the details here and the details are in devilishment. Not since Flockavelli has there been an album so densely populated with violence, and it’s hard recall a modern street rapper so determined to paint such a vivid bloody picture. Here YG serves the goal of past Los Angeles “dumb angels” such as Brian Wilson: to provide the voice of those who aren’t so likeable and precocious as world-weary traveler and prodigy Kendrick Lamar. If Kendrick’s good kid, m.a.A.d. city served as a sort of Ulysses for Los Angeles, this would probably be its Ham On Rye. Self-centered, arrogant, stripped down, obnoxious, yet above all: Commanding.
The album is littered with these hyper-detailed moments of violence. On “BPT” YG describes his initiation into the Treetop Piru’s by beating down someone and recalling how “The haymaker didn’t connect,” and how he restrained himself from stomping his opponent out “cause that’s disrespect.” Or the carelessly offhand way he alludes to masturbating in the county jail on “Bicken Back Being Bool.” For once, it seems his lyrics have finally caught up to the way his voice used to awkwardly squeak and glitch-out through those bass-heavy tunnels in his teenaged attempts of emulating Lil Wayne’s drug-induced robotic tics on early tracks such as “Still Popping” him in a digitaldripped.com/Myspace Profile Player staple. He just casually careens along on a daredevil path; spasmodically dropping stray loose information like it’s nothing.
And the information is necessary; for the most part, YG’s discography up to now has suffered mostly from a lack of personality. But this time Jackson is out here putting everything on display, such as his struggle to heal the wounds of betrayal on “Me & My Bitch,” or his fraught relationship with his mother on “Sorry Mama.” Despite consistently being written off as unintelligent or incapable by most of rap’s critical consensus, he’s able to speak for a whole subset of rap that rarely commit to such detailed step-by-step portrayals of what makes a person turn out the way Keenan Jackson has. The bizarre paradox of “Meet the Flockers,” where YG informs listeners to prey on the Asian community for better odds, while boldly comforting anybody who’s ever had to break and enter into a household to stay afloat is problematic as hell. But at least someone who’s been there is trying to speak on their behalf. Rap has too many rich kids trying to be voices of their generation, and maybe some of the casualties of places like Compton, Chicago, or anywhere else where life becomes desperate deserve the right to affirm their existence.
Def Jam proposed that My Krazy Life is going to be the next The Chronic for Los Angeles. It’s a pretty fair comparison; the Drake assisted “Who Do You Love,” “Left, Right” and “My Nigga” are all massive bangers, with DJ Mustard’s fully-realized sound finally shoving YG out of the limited kingdom of L.A. radio rap and unleashing him onto the nation. It has the sonic potential for him to remain in the chronology of rap the way that those early 90s West Coast classics linger around after decades, enthralling legions of listeners. The storyline is fascinating and direct, the beats are heavy and evocative. At one point, some unidentified DJ, perhaps Mustard, transforms an old school rap staple sample via Eugene McDaniels into a mass of poltergeist triplets screaming to get out.
But I’d defer that, heretically enough, My Krazy Life is more like a West Coast version of The College Dropout. The rare moment a rapper takes the time to document all the details to humanize the people left behind in a way that’s so artistically powerful, hopefully even those who are miles away from such a life may gain a chance to have their eyes forced upon such a life. It is arguably the finest debut from a West Coast rapper in over a decade—yes, even against THAT ALBUM—and it is true marvel to watch YG deliver after so many years of promise, work and dedication.