October 21, 2016

Art by demxx

Torii MacAdams is never dyeing his hair pink.

Scotty Cain / NBA YoungBoy NBA Smoke / Porch / I Ain’t Hiding

By some measures, Louisiana is a failed state. The legal code, derived from French and Spanish law, is entirely different than the rest of the country; the state is, if not literally underwater, financially sunk, with a billion-dollar budget shortfall caused by an arcane, insane (non-) system of taxation; when states are ranked by educational attainment, Louisiana typically falls in the mid-40’s. Even rap beef, which in most places is settled with memes or, on rare occasions, fisticuffs, still frequently leads to murder in Louisiana–which, per capita, its led the nation in every year since 1989. That’s why Scotty Cain and NBA YoungBoy’s friendship-turned-rivalry is so worrying. Easily available firearms, rap bravado, immaturity, and a culture grown tragically accustomed to violence is a dangerous combination.

The rap press has a role to play in the commodification of beef. It’s a widely held belief–and one supported in part by Rob Kenner, a founding editor–that Vibe Magazine stoked the flames of the East Coast-West Coast feud that ended with the deaths of the Notorious B.I.G. and 2Pac. Even though clicks have replaced circulation as a marker of a publication’s relevance, the dynamic between the rap press and rappers’ inter-personal relationships remains the same: beef-tangential memes, gossip, disses, denials, and fuzzy cell phone videos fuel traffic. By my count, in the past six weeks, Complex and XXL have combined to write 75 posts on Meek Mill-related beef, an appalling, laughable number. Perhaps the only positive of the rap press’ myopia and intellectual incuriosity is that these shortcomings will probably prevent the spread of misinformation and hysteria about NBA YoungBoy and Scotty Cain.

Saba ft. NonameChurch / Liquor Store

As I’ve written before, I have a strained relationship with positivity and happiness, and my instinctive opposition to expressions of fun-for-everyone merriment inevitably affects how I evaluate music. I was prepared to dismiss Saba and Noname’s “Church/Liquor Store” as too woke, too fuzzy, or too latently religious. Then I actually listened to it, and it’s none of the three.

Saba’s a very gifted and intelligent rapper, but I’ve found that these qualities don’t necessarily make for good music. It’s difficult to be sensitive without being cloying, socially conscious without descending into communitarian cliché. The sweet spot between uncritical glorification of crime and removed, sanctimonious tut-tutting is hard to hit; on “Church/Liquor Store” Saba and Noname rap about inner-city life with nuance and understatedness, not condescension, abdication, or overwrought metaphors. Sometimes a church and a liquor store are just a church and a liquor store.

Lil Peep & Lil TracyWhite Wine

Lil Peep and Lil Tracy make music for kids who grew up with iPhones. Raekwon has Polo Rugby’s older than them. Neither rapper can legally consume alcoholic beverages. Matthew Schnipper of Pitchfork used the word “grunge” to describe their music; Kurt Cobain committed suicide years before either rapper was born. When I watched the video for “White Wine,” I felt so old that I almost powdered my wig. I wrote this paragraph with a quill and ink.

The pink-haired, pink-attired Peep has “Crybaby” tattooed above his right eye and a shattered heart below it. Tracy keeps his dreads in various shades of neon. Had they been born ten years earlier, they would’ve been Hot Topic ghouls, and when they say they want to kill themselves, it comes with the caveat that they’d prefer to do it in a new Maserati. The implication: all things, even suicide, come with a veneer of super-whatever, totally-over-it irony. Their nihilism might be shocking were it not so clearly low-stakes–they post too many photos of themselves on Instagram to die on purpose.

2 Chainz ft. Gucci Mane & QuavoGood Drank

Some stray thoughts on “Good Drank” in lieu of a more singular, developed passage:

  • I love trap rappers–not teen rappers, Mall Goth rappers, internet rappers, or Swedish rappers–over sparse, spacey beats. Contemporary trap instrumentals–the busy bastard children of Zaytoven–can feel like rote, color-by-numbers affairs. Mike Dean’s instrumental for “Good Drank,” like that of Migos’ “Cocoon” or Young Thug’s “Guwop,” is, if not a blank slate, a loose guideline.
  • Quavo is the undisputed star of Migos. But why? He’s not a markedly better rapper than Takeoff or Offset, nor is his voice more distinct–they all sound like they’ve just emerged from a ramshackle Gwinnett shotgun shack smoking session, and they seem to share roughly equal responsibility for molding their metronomic triplets into a signature flow. A half-baked theory: Takeoff and Offset’s monikers are too similar, and “Quavo,” whose name sounds like a mediocre tequila, is more easily identifiable.
  • Discussion question: Who’s having a better year, 2 Chainz or Gucci Mane? 2 Chainz’s second album, B.O.A.T.S. II: Me Time, failed to generate the same outrageous success as his debut, and subsequent mixtapes didn’t do much to reverse his flagging momentum. But this year he released a full-length with Lil Wayne, ColleGrove, and the warmly received Daniel Son: Necklace Don, all while continuing his side hustle as a considerate, charismatic, and overtly gilded cultural commentator. This year has legitimized 2 Chainz’s career. Gucci Mane’s 2016 has been more straightforward: he was released from prison, shed his “Get Money Gut,” and has promised a third new album, The Return of East Atlanta Santa, before the new year.

Lil Nardyemo on my bday

I feel you, Lil Nardy. I hate birthdays, too.

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