The Rap Up: Week of June 3rd

The Rap Up returns with new ones from Pusha and Hov, Gucci, Thugger, Jonwayne, and more.
By    June 3, 2016

Torii MacAdams knows Dallas is more than cowboys and mavericks.

Pusha T ft. Jay ZDrug Dealers Anonymous


I have very mixed feelings about Jay Z. He’s a coke rapper emeritus, a figurehead for fictional stove-top scientists and triple beam daydreamers, who continues to make music seemingly more in service of braggartly impulse than artistic desire. There’s a mowing-the-lawn weariness, a this-shit-again sense of maintenance; his fame is derived from rap, but in the past four years he’s probably spent more time speaking in silly voices to Blue Ivy than he has rapping into a microphone. He raps because that’s what he’s always done, because he can’t let the brand stray too far from its core message: the durag is forever close at hand.

Jay Z’s performance on “Drug Dealers” isn’t all bad. Rather, it’s like watching Kobe’s final years: a (comparatively) elder statesman mixing it up with touchscreen-savvy youths, trying to assert his dominance with little more than chest-beating and teeth-gnashing. In quick succession, he uses the neologism “brackin’” and tells us to Google him–twice. He clangs a pun about our future corporate overlords Über, but gets it back with:

Life made me ambidextrous/
Countin’ with my right/
Whippin’ white with my left wrist/
Daaamn, Daniel/
FBI keep bringin’ them all white vans through

Those are inappropriately good lines from a 46 year-old, especially one making reference to a months-old meme. It’s either sad and patronizing that Jay Z’s been reduced partial-verse praise, or heartening that, amidst the clumsy swan dives into the Mediterranean, fatuous vanity projects, and tiffs caught on elevator security cameras, there’s still some verve left in the mind of Hov. Like I said, mixed feelings.

Young ThugGangster Shit

Amongst current and former Passion of the Weiss staffers, there’s been discussion of whether or not lyrics are still essential to our listening. It’s a truly subjective matter; just as you can go to a museum and enjoy Impressionist shapelessness more than inch-perfect Romanticism, you’re allowed to listen to more brutalist Waka Flocka than baroque Aesop Rock. (And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They’re curmudgeons.)

I think what Young Thug represents more dramatically than any other rapper is the deciphering of basic phonemes as a form of lyricism. Lyricism, as it’s traditionally conceived, is more a matter of committing punchlines to memory or milking dense, filigreed bars for meaning than it is baseline understanding. I’d argue that it’s “lyrical” to force listeners into considering some of the basic fundamentals of the English language, and posit Lewis Carroll and Dr. Seuss would feel the same.

Gucci ManeFirst Day Out Tha Feds

After the better part of three years in prison, Gucci Mane was credited with time served before sentencing, and was subsequently released 116 days before his initial release date. The aptly-titled “First Day Out Tha Feds” was uploaded to his Soundcloud the following day. While we haven’t lacked for “new” Gucci Mane during his imprisonment, his releases were uneven, Frankenstein’d compositions with verses that were often mismatched in tone and quality. Still, the decoupage mixtapes and occasional guest features performed essential duties: they insured that the words “Gucci Mane” and “new” would appear alongside one another; they whet the appetite of a fanbase undeterred by his incarceration; they earned the rapper significantly more money than he would have performing sub-minimum wage prison work.

On “First Day Out The Feds,” The Once and Future King of Zone 6 has a moment of paranoiac contrition when he raps:

Wake up and take a piss, I hear ‘em sharpening knives
Main focus every day is makin’ out here alive
Take a shower in my boots and go to sleep in my shoes
Last night I had a dream some killers ran in my room

It would be an interesting turn were Gucci’s first post-prison project as claustrophobic and introspective as Lil Boosie’s post-release Life After Death Row. At the moment, his voice sounds thinner and less mush-mouthed–changes I’d (probably errantly) ascribe to his well-publicized weight loss–and his delivery seems more deliberate, adjustments that could be permanent, or simply the product of two years away from a studio.

Jonwayne / Westside GunnThat’s O.K. / Razors

Westside Gunn, of the upper lip frozen in perma-snarl and Jonwayne, a Totoro in sandals, conspired to meet at a point somewhere beyond boom-bap. They’re canonical, confident stylists, the logical successors to years of stultifying “real hip-hop is like this” un-logic. To varying degrees, the entire rap world is experimenting with form. Westside Gunn and Jonwayne have retained a lot of the essential elements of rap without kowtowing to rigidity; Gunn says fly shit at his own pace (or, less generously, at Roc Marciano’s), Jonwayne interprets soul jazz for a generation that doesn’t own Grover Washington Jr. vinyl.

Curtis Mayz ft. Mel of The Outfit, TXSwangin

Surely, it can’t be long before the creative deluge overrunning the banks of the Trinity River receives recognition outside a few base corners of the internet. Prior to “Swangin,” I was unfamiliar with the high-pitched Curtis Mayz, a self-described malt liquor connoisseur, which either speaks to my own nescience or the depth of Dallas’ rap talent. Hopefully the latter, probably both. Mayz’ Black Excellence LP, released in November of last year, didn’t seem to garner much press outside Dallas–a shame, since he’s got a bit of Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T. to him. The combination of Mayz’ pinch and Mel’s expanded lilt make for great listening.

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