April 25, 2017

bunny

Douglas Martin doesn’t eat eggs.

Ham. Chocolate bunnies. Enough pastel dye to bridge the decade-plus-long gap between Cartoon Bear Kanye and Yeezy Season 5. Enough church for a decent amount of us to last the rest of the year. Enough Zombie Jesus jokes to last us through the post-nuclear-war apocalypse. Being as though it’s on the other side of the year from most of the other widely celebrated holidays, the traditions of Easter Sunday feel a little less suffocating. People are far more excited to play outside and make elaborate baskets than bring a tree indoors and poke themselves with ornament hangers. As of last year, a new Easter tradition began: Westside Gunn wrangles a handful of his favorite collaborators to drop a basket on Soundcloud.

Last year around this time, Gunn was fresh off the heels of the remarkably well-received Flygod and was well on his way to the swift backlash (even by today’s standards) followed by Just Blaze beats and Eminem co-sign. It was also before overexposure vis a vis too many only-okay EPs, so the idea of him dropping a random track on a religious holiday was a bonus. There is a great, short-ish full-length somewhere in all the material between Flygod and this point; maybe I should commandeer Rework the Angles from Zilla and explore that theory.

The first “Easter Gunday” was enjoyable in its novelty, but all parties involved have done better work. It’s more noteworthy for Gunn employing the sort of audacity every rapper on the come-up should possess. (I believe rap is by nature a competitive sport, so if you don’t think you are or could be the best, you should probably do something else.) This brashness takes shape in a four-minute rant where Gunn addresses biters, negative criticism, Hus Kingpin, and other Sons of Marci. (The best takedown of all: “Ayo Mag, you came to my show, right? Brooklyn Fest. You had on fuckin’ sandals.”)

As it often goes in art, sometimes the sequel is better than the original. Whereas the first version seemed sort of tossed off, “Easter Gunday 2” serves a few purposes. Mentioned in the ad-libs between verses, Gunn talks about taking some time off, though it hasn’t been all that long since Riots on Fashion Avenue (which is more of a single than an EP) and Hitler Wears Hermes 4. He also briefly alludes to the online scuttlebutt about Mach Hommy distancing himself from the Griselda camp before Hommy unleashes a smoldering verse.

Before Mach comes in and enjoys a victory lap from last year’s HBO (finally available to those who didn’t want to pay the rumored exorbitant $300 price tag for the hard copy) and Earl Sweatshirt’s endorsement, the spaces are filled in very nicely. Keisha Plum sets the tone with her particular brand of street poetry, giving nice color to well-worn hip-hop references (“Wild as David Ruffin on coke, dripping in Gucci”) and Daringer continues to master the lost art of not getting too busy with beats, simply offering something rappers want to rap over.

Gunn sounds less lethargic than he did on Riots on Fashion Avenue. He continues to draw detail on the persona he’s spent the past couple years building to a pretty high profile, still all imported coupes, wholesale drugs, and fashion houses. Copping new whips when he’s bored, leaping over basics, and ruminating on his newfound status: “Used to camp out in line, now I’m getting boxes from Nike.”

Let’s not reduce the art of the dope rap verse to hot metaphors and eleven-syllable rhymes. Any high school student who has ever received an A- in Honors English can do that, and I’m speaking from personal experience there. Much like Earl, what Mach Hommy does is not just “wordplay” or “lyricism,” his verses contain a golden facility with language, something wordsmiths in various other genres of art struggle to truly master. On tracks like “Thank God,” where he laments Haitians getting snitched on and “deported off of statements,” he shows his emotional depth, but here he does what he was enlisted to do, rap circles around an enormous percentage of rappers working today.

The verse is littered with imagery: A Peugeot skirting off, setting fire to snakes in the grass; boxes of Rolex watches (“I like to herb the dealer, buy ‘em in bulk); and Walter White’s street alias. (Why rappers are more attracted to White’s hubris rather than Mike Ehrmantraut’s quiet dignity and service to the job is a subject for a Twitter thread or your favorite message board.)

The verse is filled with hair-raising turns of phrase: “I keep my penny pincher by the waist / I’m at my friendliest, tune in, I let my Henny sit without a chase,” “Stool pigeons don’t fuck with high wires, na’mean? / New niggas don’t fuck with wiseguys, bada bing!” The verse consists of references to Young Dolph, my favorite Christmas hymn (“Little Drummer Boy”), blessings at Passover, and little gems of insight: “That’s why when niggas say ‘BFF,’ it’s a little ripple, it’s not a wave,” “Them crackers will rock your ass to sleep with a pencil, niggas is wide awake.”

When Gunn and Conway dropped “MachineGun Black,” there was the aforementioned question of whether or not Mach was separated from the Griselda camp, and there was a question of whether they were going to ditch Daringer for big-name producers. There’s an old saying that goes, “Sometimes you just gotta dance with the one who brung ‘ya.” The Griselda of 2016 garnered attention for a reason, and it is exciting to see what all affiliates do with that higher profile. We can only hope their Easters and Passovers will be filled with blessings for years to come. Only time will tell.