Dean Van Nguyen prefers Alpa Chino.
Just when you thought Scarface was a tapped-out resource for rap inspiration, here comes Detroit coke rapper Payroll Giovanni, spitting drug-slinging lyrics over the movie’s iconic Giorgio Moroder-composed theme tune. Brian De Palma’s bloody rise-and-fall of a crime lord has been as important in gangster rap iconography as Eazy-E’s twin pistols. The not-too-subtly titled Payface may be derivative as hell, but it’s yet another set of the Motown staple regenerating old rap tropes in a way that bumps really hard.
Following on from the classic Cali flavors of last year’s mixtapes Big Bossin’ Vol. 1. and Sosa Dreamz (named after Tony Montana’s chief supplier), the title track “Payface” sees the Doughboyz Cashout emcee jump on Moroder’s doomed vision of gaudy 1980s Miami. It’s a less than two-minute sprint; no hook, pauses, or wasted motions. Payroll’s velvety voice—an instrument that’s always gorgeous on the ear—is in full-flight here. He counts his cash, reveals his disgust at the users who buy his product, and toasts the hardened hustlers who introduced him to the game (“Middleschool I was getting’ picked up in Lexuses/ Corvettes and shit, raised by dealers with gold necklaces”). It’s nothing we haven’t heard before, but Payroll wins because he goes all in, efficiently mining the prototypical components of gangster rap and tying it all together with his flow.
Crossing Cardo out of the equation is like separating Dr. Dre from a young Snoop Doggy Dogg. Payface isn’t as good or stylistically cohesive than the really great Big Bossin’ Vol. 1., but there are huge highlights. On “How We Move It,” Payroll lifts wholesale from Montell Jordan’s classic of almost the same name, reimagining the ‘90s cruising-around R&B joint as a drug-slinging anthem. Helluva Beats’ horror movie piano keys on “Started Small Time” scores part of the origin story (“I used to hide funky bowls all in Chaz house/ Wasn’t a home owner but I owned a crack house”), while the rubbery bassline and good vibrations of “Hustle Muzik 3” sees Gio lean back towards the Cali sun.
The best song, though, is closer “Raised in Raids.” The usual posturing is traded out for a glance at the more brutal side of the hustle. Payroll charts going from a kid watching drug addicts constantly knock at his door, to being the next in line in his family to get caught up in a perpetual cycle of criminality. “You were scared of the boogieman,” he raps over soulful strings, “I was scared of the raid team.” The song adds a new ripple to Gio’s increasingly impressive artistry.