October 15, 2014

Will Hagle will not just wait on it. 

I’ve been listening to Spotify’s edited version of Hell Can Wait because it’s the app’s first search result for ‘Vince Staples’ and I don’t have enough hard drive space on my computer to save the real EP. I’ve also been streaming Gunplay’s new self-titled tape on DatPiff and I don’t know what’s more annoying, a censored Staples or an unrestrained DJ Epps. Gunplay is drowning in tags, as if Epps doesn’t even hear himself say “this mixtape talks for itself” at the beginning of “J.O.B.”

Hell Can Wait and Gunplay are both precursors to forthcoming projects, which also both happen to be full-length Def Jam debuts. Vince Staples is a different artist, but he’s given us an EP of seven well-structured, original songs. Gunplay’s given us another mixtape. It’s less of a build-up to Living Legend than a way to hold things over until that project someday happens. A reminder Don Logan exists.

There’s nothing wrong with that, especially because Gunplay can still rap well. The problem is that a more complete LP has been promised. It’s harder to get excited for another mixtape when you know a true debut is supposedly in the works, especially when the DJ can’t stop yelling “New album coming soon!”

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The strangest part of it all is that a strong mixtape might even be preferable to Living Legend. Gunplay is all frantic energy, bursting at the seams with cocaine and charisma. A fully finished product might not make sense. 601 & Snort was far from polished, but still caught your attention and made you want to listen. Gunplay sounds like what it is, a loose mix of 19 tracks intended to rebuild buzz for the proper album.

My issue isn’t that Living Legend may just become another example in the music industry’s running joke of inaccurate album release dates. That’s expected at this point, and Gunplay himself jokes over “Open Letter” about which financial quarter it’ll come out. My issue is that Gunplay isn’t as good as previous mixtapes and the only excuse is that something better is allegedly coming soon.

At its best, the full-length album is a beautiful thing: a carefully constructed, sensical progression of music centered around particular themes or narratives. But it was created out of a necessity — the limited amount of space available on a record — that’s mimicked online but simply doesn’t exist anymore. DatPiff mixtapes, Spotify EPs and iTunes albums all blur the lines of what’s considered an official, worthwhile musical product, but ultimately they’re all just collections of digital audio files. If you’re putting something like that into the world and marketing it, as has been done with Gunplay, it should be good. Even H*** Can Wait is good.

“Aiight” is good, benefitting from a repetitive Ross hook like so many middle-of-the-road singles before it. There are other high points. Gunplay gets locked in with a relentless cadence on “Upper Echelon,” and he shows off some of his best writing over “Heaven or Hell.” The 50 Cent disses are great when you catch them, or when Epps makes them glaringly obvious by yelling along with them.

Since Wayne, few if any mixtape artists can effortlessly toss out verses that outshine the originals, but Gunplay has been similarly capable of bringing beats you’ve heard a hundred times back to life with wordplay and enthusiasm alone. He hasn’t lost that ability, but he doesn’t quite bring it to the biggest beats of the year like “Move That Dope” and “Numbers on the Board.” He probably could be destroying them but it’s not obvious that he’s putting in the effort.

Gunplay is a slight disappointment because it’s been packaged for us to consume, but not worked on hard enough for us to enjoy. I know it’s a decent enough mixtape that shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but those accepted lower standards are what led to a subpar product. At least it’s served its ultimate purpose of LP promotion, making the waiting game begin yet again.

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