Lucas Foster is your favorite producer’s favorite writer.
TM88 x Southside x Lil Uzi Vert – “Mood”
This is everything wonderful about Lil Uzi Vert. It’s an expertly put together emo trap ballad that distinguishes him enough from his peers to make him an instantly recognizable super star. The usual excellence of producers, TM88, Southside, and Supah Mario is instantly apparent with an all-too-careful arrangement of strings pulled by aortas and bleep-bloops more well thought out than any other trap song released this year (all 12 days of it). It is also a protest song released by the man who put it together, TM88, to spit in the face of Atlantic Records after his claim that they’re grossly underpaying him.
When Paul Thompson was tasked with writing about the best rap song of 2017, “XO Tour Llif3,” for this publication, he did not begin his blurb with discussion of Uzi’s bluesy, yet ambitious chorus or quotable bars. He focused on contextualizing the song with TM88’s experience in the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting. It’s an angle that makes more sense than ever when talking about a year-defining single—the producer is more central to the creation of hip-hop than ever. TM88 was allegedly compensated exactly zero dollars by Atlantic Records for crafting that massively successful single.
I get it: Lil Pump acting like a cartoon caricature of a teen superstar, with lean in one hand and iCarly the other is sexier than shutting youtself indoors for months perfecting the art of creating hit singles. That doesn’t excuse critics and media from framing the discussion about the creation of pop music appropriately. Fans needn’t be forced to overanalyze things, but they should be kept abreast of the creative process. Lil Uzi Vert can be a talented vocalist and his all-star producers be just as responsible for crafting his sound as he is. Both thoughts can be true.
Your Old Droog – “Cement 4’s (Feat. Conway)”
The unremitting excellence of Your Old Droog and Conway has been overwhelming since 2014. This is another exercise in Timbs and Dutches traditionalism with the sort of tempered and intelligent production and mixing that all artists making lyrical, NY, or lo-fi hip-hop should take notes on.
The vocals are mixed down to the level of the flipped string sample and horn loop, giving every element of the track a feeling of synchronization. Of course, this is primarily a vehicle for both rappers’ poetic tendencies, and neither disappoints. They constructed rich verses of gripping imagery and sharp one liners. Droog’s one-off, “Jack em for his kicks like a beatmaker,” is the elegantly simple bit of writing that makes him so valuable as an artist.
In a lane so crowded with struggle raps, tired derivatives, and groan-inducing subject matter, these are the artists that sustain our relationship with what we classically value in rap music.
KEY! – “ICE SCREAM HELLO!”
Psychedelic trap is still a viable avenue for the denizens of Atlanta’s crowded after parties and studios to drive through with tops dropped and cups muddied. Artists like KEY!, Larry League, Sahbabbi, and Thouxanbanfauni pull up identifiable wells of influence sprouting up the pop cultural aquifer of Atlanta’s black Hollywood that they drown in. They can easily be confused by passive listeners as “Soundcloud rap” (whatever that means at this point), but this is a gross mischaracterization. For KEY! and friends, Future, 21, Wop, and Thug are always an arms length or a strip club away. This song takes an amalgamation of these superstars’ sounds and throws them into a hallucinogenic blender during a 4 AM studio session.
The beat begins with a stretched, trance inducing vocal sample for its lead melody, opening the space for KEY! to fight the urge to slump over with a punchy, traditional trap flow. During its midsection, the beat sheds its trippier and psychedelic flourishes and KEY! switches to a Future imitation. This is good songwriting—his vocals compliment and highlight the strengths of Kenny Beats’ dynamic production with two very different types of duplicity.
SahBabii – “Watery”
“Water” is a solid ballad, and frankly, a much better follow up single to “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” than it has any right to be. While its highs aren’t quite as high as “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick,” it’s competitive. The soulful keyboard and crooning owe as much to R&B and Kodak Black as the polished singing does to Young Thug. The energy is subdued, introspective in sound, but of course, not lyrically; asking for galaxy brain lyrics from these guys is like trying to decipher shoegaze lyrics when you should just enjoy the mood the vocals create.
ATL SMOOK / LUCKI – “INCREDIBLE (BLACKACE) / “4everybody (Prod. @marcusbasquiat)”
Two tracks similar enough to the Warhol track I reviewed last week that they can be grouped together as a glimpse into the art trap zeitgeist. When the voice is an instrument, less can be more on the producer’s end. The effortless combination of strings and autotune is all that’s needed to sound like the future (or at least a less energetic Future).
Eminem – “Chloraseptic (Remix Feat. 2 Chainz and Phresher)”
Initially, I didn’t want to obnoxiously alley oop on the new critical consensus around Eminem, mainly because I’m not tall enough. I just wanted to contrast this absolute abomination of a remix with five much better songs to demonstrate why there has been a retroactive reassessment of his entire career. But once I heard this, I could barely help myself. The beat sounds like what a Republican think tank would make if tasked with creating a “trap hit” to beat Oprah in 2020. The features make absolutely no sense. I’m happy 2 Chainz has the money for another episode of Most Expensivest shit and Phresh sounds like a nightmare induced by the local opener at a small town stop of a washed ’90s rapper’s 2018 tour. Eminem sounds more tone deaf than his own ear for beats.
There was no verdict based on the tracklist. We all groaned through the entire terrible album. The verdict was deliberated upon, and we swiftly sentenced Em to career death because he want to still “smack whores” while acting as a surrogate for the oppressed. No one wants him to be Macklemore (at one point he was more obnoxious than Em), we just want him to go away. Go softly into that good night, tour the midwest for a legion of fans with Cheeto fingers and faint goatees while leaving the rest of us alone.