Harold Bingo is hip with the lingo.
We’re amidst a minor rap group renaissance. Much has been made of the rise of Migos, and their commercial/critical viability seems to have pried open the door for more fun loving collectives who make enjoyable music that doesn’t take itself too seriously. A listener can hear the innate difference between a group of friends who love to rap together and a group of artists tossed together by industry happenstance.
The genesis of Shoreline Mafia was formed when Ohgeesy and Fenix became friends through the graf community. From there, Master Kato (who is originally from Chicago) and Rob Vicious made their way into the fold. The group has spent the past four years recording, developing the type of chemistry that can’t be bought during the process.
Some may have heard of Shoreline Mafia because of a silly Fox News “exposé” that attempted to position them as the face of lean usage in teens. To give an idea of the veracity of this piece, it is suggested with a straight face that use of lean from today’s youth could be curtailed by parents simply taking the time to safeguard their medicine cabinet.
Clips of the interview are spliced through the group’s debut full length, ShorelineDoThatShit. The tactic is used to great effect, lending a palpable “fuck you” mentality to the proceedings. The group’s refusal to do the interview (and subsequent boast about blowing off said interview on social media) is also used to create a compelling us-against-them dynamic.
Like most rappers who have emerged in a world that doesn’t know life without the Internet, their production seems to ignore regional signifiers at times. Although the group’s sound is unquestionably of Los Angeles, there are also tracks in the group’s catalog that draw on production styles that are more commonly associated with the Midwest and South.
Their debut tape leans on production that refracts the sounds of California thru a variety of lenses and also offers a positive vision of the future. It’s one of the strongest releases in recent memory, full of songs that are destined to remain in rotation for the foreseeable future. “Whuss The Deal” and “Serve a Boat” sound like G-funk in the key of Mannie Fresh. “Spaceship” conjures a Keak Da Sneak-sounding fever dream. The video’s kinetic energy makes it appointment viewing and Ketchy Da Great’s hook is audio adrenaline.
“Musty” evokes visions of a smoked out house party nearing its conclusion, a sticky floor covered with high grade joint ashes and empty plastic cups. This was the song that spurred their rise, all the more impressive when considering they weren’t even in the studio with the producer responsible for their first hit; it was recorded over his instrumental after a SoundCloud to MP3 rip.
Others who are much smarter than I have already delved into the works of Ron-RonTheProducer. Suffice it to say, he’s defining the sound that works best for artists like Shoreline. RonRon’s ability to draw on the work of Zaytoven and Mannie Fresh to create something wholly new and indebted to the West Coast is going to make him a great deal of money. The tape serves as a friendly reminder of the sort of punch that one artist/one producer projects can pack.
Many of the group’s beats tend to be spartan in nature. There are no frills to be found. The music is made with parties and the trap in mind but Shoreline is not going for rap radio. Rap radio may very well go Shoreline, though.
Most of this music conveys a sense of dread and lean isn’t so much celebrated as it is part of the cultural firmament. It would be hard to view the music as a form of glorification by anyone who is actively listening to the lyrics. Lines like “All I do is pour” aren’t delivered with exuberance, they are said with audible indifference. Lean is a staple and unlike artists like Mozzy who have openly questioned their relationship with the drug, Shoreline does not aspire to this level of introspection at the moment.
Some rappers may have the ability to make sipping lean sound like a fun activity (think prime Wayne/Gucci), but Shoreline’s songs alway seem to be delivered from a day after perspective. The high’s already worn off, the night before has been lamented, and now they are in search of the next thrill.
This numbness plays out in the writing, which can vacillate between braggadocio and blunt honesty within the same verse. Ohgeesy comments on not being able to feel anything unless he pours four ounces into his soda with the same mix of pride and bashfulness that any current or former teenager can relate to. Fenix openly refers to himself as a fiend. In a rap world full of artists adopting the persona of a dealer who also uses without any apparent ill effect, this particular bar is jarring.
A hook about a Percocet breakfast includes a complaint about the resulting nausea. Lean is spoken of matter of factly, in cold and calculating terms of quality and potency. A camaraderie is formed in the sharing of codes and etiquette. Those who understand that lean must always be purchased with the seal intact and that Qualitest is the brand of choice can hang. The others are left on the outside looking in.
The restlessness behind their actions is evident. Some of it is clear peacocking, but the key in which it’s delivered is anything but celebratory. It all seems designed to embody the aimlessness that many of us feel when we’re young, when drug use is less of an escape and more of a coping mechanism/daily routine. Many of the tracks play out as a day in the life. Lean and weed are abundant, women are disposable, money is made and spent, and no one sounds particularly enthused about any of it. The disaffected California cool drips off the bars that are effortlessly exchanged between all of the group’s members.
This is the side of Los Angeles that few ever get to see. The listlessness associated with a hot summer’s day spent driving around with little more than some weed and the hazy outline of a plan. Hustling related boasts are exchanged in a broad and non specific manner that could easily take place during a back alley smoke/sip session. Pills are popped almost out of a sense of boredom.
In addition to the aforementioned project, there is also a Soundcloud page with a plethora of loosies to comb through. Ohgeesy is the closest thing that the group has to a breakout artist. “Home Invasion” is a prime example of his ability to transcend the lyrical tropes he relies upon. The video depicts a clearly inebriated Ohgeesy wielding a machine gun while looking as if he may topple over at any moment. The Ruff Ryders Supreme hoodie he wears sums up the aesthetic: a cursory nod to stylings of the past (the song itself is a drill descendant) drenched in the trappings of today.
His flow and delivery allow bars that would look relatively cliché on the written page to run laps through your brain. “Shooter one call away just like Chingy” is one of the most instantly quotable opening bars of recent memory. Even a line as simple as “Cocaine in my white G Fazos” becomes anthemic.
This is not to say that the other members fail to pull their weight. Trapped It Out, a 5 song EP from Rob and Fenix that sounds indebted to the early works of Lil Reese and Fredo Santana (very much a compliment), is hard as three day old dog shit. “Juice” in particular is a face scruncher of the highest order.
A furthr dig through the group’s SoundCloud reveals several essential loosies. “Jugg-N-Out” features an earworm beat/hook that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gucci mixtape and “Kato” even borrows Mannie Fresh’s “Back That Azz Up” flow in the first verse to great effect. “Foreign” sounds like an extension of “Whuss The Deal”/”Serve a Boat.” “Hunned Pacc” reminds me of King Louie-bars in the best possible way. “Codeine Bryant” is a cult classic in the making. “Break a Bitch Bacc” is custom made for drives down the 305.
There are several collaborations (“Who R U” + “Mobb Ties” are every bit as essential as “Spaceship”) with nascent LA star Drakeo The Ruler’s Stinc Team crew, and the long shadow cast in Drakeo’s wake is made readily apparent. He’s kicked open the door for other artists with the ability to subvert the stereotypes often associated with West Coast rap music.
There’s no resident hook singer to soft pedal the typical teenage puffery about pints being cracked and women who are only useful for a moment’s time. After having spent a few months with the vast majority of their recorded output, I’m hard pressed to remember any attempts at a sung refrain. This gives their material a traditional feeling and there are no obvious signifiers of the moment, no shoehorned guest appearances or autotune to be found.
What Shoreline Mafia does possess is a relatability that transcends any of the lyrical touchstones that elude many listeners. One doesn’t need to have sipped lean to relate to the angst that causes young people to rely on drugs as a crutch. You don’t need a chopper with a scope to understand the importance of projecting an aura of toughness onto your enemies when growing up in a dangerous environment. The only prerequisites to enjoying their music are a functional set of ears and an ability to take certain teen behaviors with a healthy grain of salt.