Catching Up with Waka Flocka Flame on “Re-Up”

Written by Scott Brown (@blackbeanage)

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.

Link: Waka Flocka Flame’s Re-Up

Who Is Que?

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

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.

Link: Que’s Who Is Que?

Finding Migos’ Passion: Migos’ “No Label II”

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

Who cares? Who cares who’s biting Migos’ flow? Who cares if Quavo is the most important rapper of 2014? Who cares what rapper to popularize the triplet rapping pattern? Who care what no-name rapper in the 80s did it first? Who cares?

People seem to care, and most importantly for Migos’ most recent mixtape No Label II, Offset, Quavo and Takeoff care a lot. Otherwise they wouldn’t keep reminding the listener that their style is being copied and you best watch out from those niggas who might take your style. Those niggas! But of course, no names are mentioned in this tape full of stunted self-actualization and shots-but-no-shots.

And that time devoted to “flow stealers” isn’t given to the listeners of No Label II, which isn’t an hour or even an hour and a half long, it’s an unreasonable 96 minutes. No Label II asks one to turn over the vinyl about four times before you even hitting the final side. The length of a mixtape shouldn’t be a deterrent for a listener (see: Isaiah Rashad’s Cilvia Demo EP that is over 45 minutes), but, Migos are not a rap group with enough personas to dodge such a question, because even at half its length very few of these songs are worth the initial slog.

This tape lacks a “Versace,” “FEMA,” “Chinatown,” or damn near any song from last year’s Young Rich Niggas, which held-up over repeated listens but not this time. The tape’s strongest song is “Fight Night,” which owes a lot of its charm from the reversed-out G-Funk beat from Stack Boy Twan, which feels like the only beat to understand the staccacuo rhythm that makes Migos so dynamic. Everything else is trap beat after trap beat, repeated word chorus after repeated word chorus, the exhaustion on the tape’s back end makes it easy to forget there is a fucking MGK feature on here.

On Young Rich Niggas during one of the early track DJ Ray G mentions “Niggas in school making more money than their teachers,” which sounded a bit off. Then on this tape’s opener DJ Ray G says “We the first niggas to come out of A on that real street shit,” my response this time was to laugh. Youthful brash is one of the currencies of rap music that I appreciate the most (see: Shy Glizzy’s Young Jefe), but personal myth-building at some point needs some kind of grounding. No Label II doesn’t ever try and touch the ground; it’s just Migos riding high on their own self-perpetuating hype.

Link: Migos’ No Label II

Our Post-Futuristic Present : Johnny Cinco’s “Cinco”

Written by Maxwell Cavaseno (Tumbls here)

Johnny Cinco is jammed up; like bike gears, or staplers with the one staple that got twisted up, ink cartridge ribbons flying off into the guts of the brain and splashing all over. His style has two speeds: On and Off, and sometimes he just doesn’t quite seem to have the ability to get back from one to the other once a song begins. His voice is a weird belly laugh of a sound, occasionally draped in reverb and echo to resemble some comical ghost campfire voice. His adlibs are riddled with spastic tics and gasps, sounding like the neurons in his brain that must be short-circuiting while he drowns himself in whatever chemical concoction he’s up to his ears in.

Johnny Cinco’s debut mixtape, issued and re-released now, is a fascinating document. As a member of the understandably forgotten Hellacoppa Kidz team with Yakki Divoshi. I don’t mean forgotten to say that they weren’t talented; songs like “Lingo Crazy” demonstrate a genuinely playful attitude, whereas overt attempts like the Future-assisted “Ask Yo Hoe Bout Me” fell short. So discovering in the current climate that a pair of dudes who’d never truly established themselves had fractures suggested more of the same from former futuristic kids getting older and more self-conscious.

Now, all of this could have easily translated into the usual outings of Mac Miller collabs, ‘grown-man’ sour faces or rotted-out stripper jams that feel fairly unsexy. But “Cinco” isn’t like your average rap mixtape… The beats, provided by relative newcomer Spiffy and forgotten architect of the “Future” sound Will-A-Fool, are a strange mess of murky swamps of bass and flange, while weird little keybord melodies that sound like baroque parlor music skate overhead like fireflies. The Cinco From The Black Lagoon swims along with only his head occasionally peering out, oddly comfortable in this environment. He doesn’t stand still and belt out with his heart like Skateboard Skooly (the tape’s only cameo feature) or Young Thug, nor does he contain any of the frantic mania popularized by acts like Casino or Migos. This man is proceeding along at his own pace, content.

As far as his rapping goes, Johnny Cinco’s really ‘out-there’. Hesitantly, one can compare his sort of inane, drugged out rambles to the claustrophobic quality of the Based Freestyle Era of Brandon McCartney. Cinco just sort of … talks, and talks his head off, bullshitting. His tape is littered with the sort of cheap trap posturing that 6-7 years later can really wear you down. You’re riding around in a new whip with a new thing on your wrist, new thing at your side, cause you’re the new guy, like those OLD GUYS… yeah, yeah, yeah.

But it’s all about delivery. Cinco’s drugged out slurry cries sound like the unfortunate love-child of Rick Ross and the aforementioned Future. Yet unlike any of his contemporaries, Cinco’s never that focused on the song as much as he is filling it up with HIM. When he cries out on “McDonalds” that he’s got his girl in the backseat of the Phantom, he sells it like he’s doing some sort of sea shanty, trying to visually convey the importance of HIS Phantom’s backseat treasures with his voice and unintentionally echoing Andre Nickatina’s “Dice Of Life” in his pomposity.

And Cinco’s delightfully cocky. On “Yea”, Cinco lists off rap cliches about his liters and the two-seater before boasting “Riding with a bitch named Tina, What Love Got To Do With It!?!?”. Later on, he waxes poetic about walking the walk, talking the talk, and climbing the beanstalk. No, seriously. Elsewhere on “Cinco”, he observes that the feds are watching him, but “I’mma real nigga, so I pose for ’em…!” The idea of Cinco, standing outside some club, as he flexes and postures to a black sedan full of G-Men is some of the best example of post-Gucci imagery I’ve heard in years. Through his conviction and a voice that belongs to someone who might’ve known Sonny Carson instead of DJ Pretty Boy Tank, Cinco goes far beyond the border sounding so self-deluded he comes off as messianic.

It’s hard to say what to expect from Johnny Cinco in the future. His tape suggests a rapper that, if he harnesses his talent and hones his talents in, could turn himself into one of the next big things of Atlanta. Yet at the same time, he could end up being one of those lost causes, just too rough-edged to make it out of his hometown. For now though, Cinco’s gotten the eyes on him, and it’s up to him to keep down this strange path his rapping’s taken him.

Link: Johnny Cinco’s Cinco

L O V E Week: K. Michelle’s “Still No Fucks Given”

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

Even though Still No Fucks Given is an hour long, K. Michelle sums up the appeal of her entire tape in the introductory bellowing of “Still No Fuuuuuuuucks Given.” There is exhaustion in her voice as she makes this opening declaration, as if she’s coming from an already defensive position for her declaration. But that is the unfortunate place of the reality and now unquestioned R&B star, who has plenty to say with her Valentine’s Day tape in-case people don’t want to get caught up in marked-up dinner prices and corner flower salesmen.

Songs titles like “Baby Momma,” “She Can Have You” and “Devil in You” shows K.Michelle’s disinterest in commercial holiday spirits. But she doesn’t sing from a place of pure vulnerability, as she has found a ground to stand-up for herself and sing-out against those that have wronged her in the past. It’s R&B as a weapon, not a soother for rough times, a soundtrack to late-evening romance. Call up your closest friends, pour up some drinks on the rocks and turn on her remake of “I Love This Shit,” which rings out announcing her affirmation of self-love.

Link: K. Michelle’s Still No Fucks Given

A Very 2014 #BlackHistoryMonth

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

During elementary school summer I went to a “camp” held at my church, which was less so a “camp,” rather just Black summer school. We’d learn about basic grammar rules and do arithmetic in addition to gym classes and pool trips. A lot about this program stuck with me in spite of my youth, and particularly were the history classes, as they weren’t like any school history classes that I had previously taken. Instead of “American History” it was Black History, where in it we learned about African countries, the Civil Rights movement and many different important Black figures whose knowledge I’ve taken for granted too many years of my life, till I recently noticed it leaving me.  But what hasn’t left me was the music of Scott Joplin, the words of “Life Every Voice and Sing (The Negro National Anthem),” and those two Civil Rights leaders everyone needs to learn about at some point.

A few years ago DJ Greg Street release a mixtape of sequenced Martin Luther King speeches, but oddly, and maybe not-wisely, underneath the speeches were G-Funk instrumentals, which resulted in hearing Martin Luther King talk about Bull Connor releasing dogs and fire hoses on Civil Rights protestors. The listening experience is a little stomach turning in terms of messing with such a historical document, but the narrative power of King is not lost. A similar effect is heard in a recent tape that collects different speeches from Malcolm X and laces middling Trap beats under his charged and concerned thoughts, especially as he talks about his separation from the Nation of Islam. Both collections are strange artifacts that oddly feel appropriate. Not that these great orators need rap production to keep one’s attention, far from it. But going back to those summer days the motivation of these projects seems so simple: Making sure our people hear the Word, whatever the medium of the day requires.

Link: DJ Greg Street’s Dr. King (The Speeches)
Link:  Cracktapes’ The X Interviews

The Art of Killin Shit

Written by David Turner (@dalatudalatu)

A singular voice can carry a rapper a long way. Pimp C’s snarl, Lil Wayne’s alien crooks and right now attention should be on Casino’s rocket launcher vocal booms. Best known for being the brother of Future, Casino’s Frank Matthews tape shows style triumphing over the intellectual piddle known as substance. Where the dearth of compelling lyrical content that exists in trap rap can be mind-numbingly repetitive after a while, once a rapper figures out a way to unique to approaching the genre treadmill they can almost say anything in the mic and hold a listener’s attention.

Casino’s voice does more than simply project out; at his most amped (“Right Now”) one can hear the depth of his vocal chords vibration. Though he might be shouting, he isn’t barking into the mic like a DMX or even a Waka Flocka Flame, his aggroed approach out doesn’t sound quite so put on. On “Pocket Watching” where Future deliveries one of his most unhinged out performances since last year’s “Sh!t,” Casino breaks up syllables of words to get them fit in a particular staccato rhyming scheme that even makes a chant of “Turn Up” sound ready to break a pair of headphones’ internal wiring.

Though Waka Flocka Flame hasn’t stopped releasing mixtapes since his last lukewarmly received album, Triple F for Life, Frank Matthews is the best continuation of that Lex Luger and Waka Flocka sound since Flockaveli. But the more time spent with Frank Matthews makes it so apparent just how strong a pairing of Waka and Lex were back in 09/10. Casino gets fine beats from 808 Mafia and other post-Luger and Southside on the Track producers, yet Casino still hasn’t found a producer, who’d push that next step creatively.

The opening of the tape until “Killin Shit,” produced by Malik on the Beat, gives an impression of it being just bo-swinging anthems but then Young Thug’s squawks appear on “Communication” to interrupt that run. Thugger Thugger puts in a good hook and verse, and the rest of the tape has some other high energy moment (“Hell You Talking Bout”), but one cannot help but wonder if Casino only got to work with a beat maker that’d keep him at the tape’s opening intensity. Though that Neo-Crunk style has progressed since the top of the decade—Thanks Mike Will!—Casino sounds like he was put in the spotlight a year too late to continue the form Waka Flocka was perfecting.

Link: Frank Matthews