Lil Flash and OJ Da Juiceman – “Damn (prod. Bilbo x Snowgod)”
Lucas Foster: Five years later, Lil Flash still can’t feel his hands and OJ Da Juiceman is still cooking up grams. The forgotten sons of Bricksquad and Glo Gang have sort of been lost in the mix of innumerable imitators and affiliates, but that doesn’t mean their music isn’t still enjoyable. “Damn” captures the sort of early decade, post-Zaytoven space they thrive in and is sure to clear your palate of all the experimental nonsense lobbed onto your streams and timelines.
Austin Brown: I don’t really like this enough to care about it, but I get it, and here’s why: So, I love shoegaze (bear with me, I swear). I will most likely listen to anything that sounds even a bit like Slowdive or My Bloody Valentine, no matter the creativeness or sonic quality—it’s just a feeling the genre provides that satisfies some ineffable craving I have as a listener. Chapterhouse, the lesser shoegaze band that rode the first wave of the sound in the ’90s before failing to escape its cliches? Love ‘em. Burrrn, a basically unknown Japanese band that entered the scene years later and just made good tunes that sound like Loveless? Sure, why the hell not? I don’t feel the same way about drill, which I have a relationship with mostly born out of admiration, but I know plenty do, and who am I to deny them? So, uh, let’s see: Chief Keef is My Bloody Valentine, Lil Durk is Slowdive, Lil Reese is Chapterhouse—and Lil Flash? Well, he’s Burrrn.
(Addendum: To be clear, this makes King Louie the Jesus and Mary Chain.)
Foster: If this was Buzzfeed I’d insert a gif of Wojak’s brain expanding into an elephant but I’m pretty sure that if I did that on this site Jeff would chokeslam me.
Lil Durk – “Durkio Krazy (prod. DY)”
Brown: Durk was always the most tuneful of the Chicago drill elite, even before he moved down to ATL and did a duet with then-partner Dej Loaf. But following his rewrite of Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” as “1-773 Vulture,” he seems to be leaning harder than usual on a trap&b persona, offering popwise catharsis while recounting his Chicago street past—perhaps a little less invested in defensive, masculine posturing now that that past is behind him.
The synth squiggle behind him on “Durkio Krazy,” part of the instrumental provided by 808 Mafia’s DY, is a good complement to his croon, which on its own doesn’t have the same effortless grit to it that allowed Future to transition from “Tony Montana” to “Turn On The Lights” so seamlessly on Pluto. Plus, Durk is less of a materialist than ever, sticking to his everyman redemption narrative—“came from nothin’ who’d have thought we’d get paid for shows”—through the whole song without missing a beat. But Durk’s commitment to exploring his Chicago in narrative is starting to diverge with his more escapist melodic instincts, and “Durkio Krazy” sees Durk capable but confused—it feels like he’s straining for some synthesis, but he’s not quite there yet.
Foster: Lil Durk is a 4.0 student of rap songcraft, but not a teacher. There are almost no technical flaws or uninspired stutters in his music, even on this most “confused” amalgamation of modern trap&b and Chicago street rap. The void missing in this disconsolate bundle of melodies is apparent but not explicitly identifiable. I’d say that he’s actually completed a synthesis, having long functioned as a highway between Lamron and Zone 6, the tangible angst (really PTSD) is effectively communicated on this track but the completed package is just a synthesis.
As much as Durk shines in a supporting role, a spot up shooter who can nail his shot any time Tee Grizzley passes his way, a critical melodic spice added to Reese’ rice-and-beans drill raps, he’s not quite a front man. His everyman persona is relatable but not captivating. His ear for melody is tuned, yet he’s never interested in coloring outside the lines or crafting something new. “Durkio Krazy” is actually very sane and grounded, it’s something we’ve heard before and will continue to hear. It’s possible to paint it as too of the moment but impossible to deny it’s value.
Brown: That’s true. It’s really easy to hate on Durk for not being quite this or that, but at the end of the day, he’s his own sort of ideal—musician as career path, rather than self-destructive void or flash in the pan. In that light, his formalism scans less as indecision and more as its own form of discipline, oriented not around the “best rapper alive” mantra or some artistic muse, but rather the desire, having made it out, to stay out and not get sucked back in.
03 Greedo – “Substance (prod. Beatboy)”
Brown: I can see why more “forward-thinking” rap critics are falling over themselves for Greedo. His neo-based Xan prophet persona feels like it’s constantly on the verge of falling apart in the best way possible, only held together by a deceptive musical dexterity in both flow and melody. Artists like those—Lil Wayne, Chief Keef, Lil B—emerge from the sea of hustling hip-hop craftsmen every few years, and often gradually reshape the genre from below in their own image. They also tend to appeal to tastemakers in their outsider aesthetic, serving as the hip-hop underground’s connectors to the aesthete indie set.
Greedo’s specific appeal, though, is less any outré public image (that’s so early 2010s) and more the flecks of depressiveness sprinkled throughout even his most upbeat tunes. On “Substance,” he finally blows that impulse up into a whole song, and the results are pretty glorious—a sort of hollowed out, decayed version of snap music, full of empty space and wistful regret. The lyric, too, is indelible, one of the best contortions of the “love is a drug” theme since Ty Dolla $ign’s “Don’t Judge Me” last year. Sometimes the aesthetes are just right.
Foster: I kind of hate empty space in rap music. At its core, hip-hop is dance music no matter the weight of its conceptual substance. On this love song to drugs, Greedo tries to fill an absence of rhythm with a load of melancholy, but the crawling pace at which the melancholy is expressed doesn’t have enough snap to really enthrall me. I see the appeal of this song—the whistling melodies and Greedo’s expectedly ultra-competent singing create a unique soundscape, better than most any spacey autotune drug songs—but Greedo’s at his best when he embraces his regional influences. You have to hold the innovators, the geniuses to higher standards, the absence of his normally excellent work on drums is way too noticeable for any listener familiar with his massive catalog. You can appreciate the appeal while wishing for more.
Brown: It’s not my favorite Greedo track, for sure. But it is the first time I’ve heard him take his aesthetic background and rendered it entirely as foreground, and that alone sells me on it. I hear what you’re saying about the pace, but I love it anyway—the breaths he takes in between bars are distinctly audible, and with the cocoonlike production enveloping him, maybe I’m imagining it, but to me they sound just like sighs.
Lil West – “Dogfood (prod. Distance Decay)”
Brown: Last year was the year that SoundCloud rap—or at least its emo contingent—“broke,” and if XXXTentacion was its Nirvana moment (ew) then get ready for a whole lot of imitators. Lil West has a bit more personality than most of his Korn-fonted peers, granted, and his feature on “REM,” off nothing,nowhere.’s album Reaper, was serviceable, but he feels like a moodsetter at best, never quite establishing a distinct identity of his own. “DOGFOOD” looks for a while like it’s going to upset that, with a gloriously minimal, bass-blown production at the hands of Distance Decay, but then you realize he’s just doing “what if Travis Scott, but Bankroll Fresh flows?” At the end of the day, all the track does is enable daydreams of a future where all these producers realize they’re better off without the rappers and just gatecrash the dance music world.
Foster: There’s just not enough happening here to celebrate; another victim of empty space, just on a much more massive level. “DOGFOOD” is a pastiche of SoundCloud synths and autotune without dynamic percussion or even percussive rapping. That unfortunate combination lays bare all of Lil West’s most glaring flaws as an artist—he doesn’t have much to say, and the dearth of lyrical content is not stretched into interesting contortions of melodic vowels or an engaging bouncy flow. The song’s intro is a full minute of near ambience, a spacey void that Lil West stumbles to fill with his mumbling croons. Curiously, he doesn’t catch up when the bass blows up (I’d say “when the bass drops” but I’m already nauseous), he just kind of keeps mumbling nothing in particular.
It would be very interesting if all these ultra-talented and underappreciated SoundCloud producers ditched boring mumble rappers like Lil West. It’s really hard to notice little creative flourishes in subtle synth squiggles or creative basslines when you have K-Mart Travis Scotts muddying up the mix.
Brown: Just…don’t listen to this, y’all. Get some deconstructed club music. Go listen to the four Travis Scott songs that work as shameless pop tunes. Hell, find Distance Decay’s instrumental and think about how wild this could honestly sound with a rapper instead of a mood board on it. Your time is too valuable to be listening to bargain bin gothbois.
Kirb La Goop – “Baby Wan Fall in Love (prod. Drillaboi)”
Foster: Kirb La Goop is not only underappreciated, but insufficiently dissected. He’s been deconstructing traditional approaches to SoundCloud rapping for five years and has clearly not run out of ideas. He avoids tired tropes or youthful exuberance on this shiny loop of tropical synths (I’m an absolute sucker for this specific plug-in), his energetic multiplicity of flows are more filled with wistful repentance in his hook and verses, but doesn’t succumb to self-pitying whines. The verse is 21 Savage on helium, molly, and percs and the hook is the type of percussive hammer on top of an ethereal beat that clinks and booms as only Kirb can.
Brown: Who the hell is this guy? With him having been around for years, his aesthetic—even given the Lil Peep association—is less emo rap and more tumblr rap. I hear Danny Brown in his adenoidal whine that somehow sounds like he’s on both uppers and downers, and Drilla Boi’s steel drum-aping synths wouldn’t sound out of place between some Ryan Hemsworth instrumentals. What’s interesting is that he’s made it through the past half-decade without succumbing to the temptation of the slur (no, not mumbling), making a vocal that would have likely baffled me in 2012 sound comparatively pristine by today’s standards. I don’t know if it’s, like, “pushing the genre forward, maan,” but his vocals tug at my ears in directions they’ve never quite gone before, and retains a sort of androgynous forcefulness, to boot.
Foster: I guess, in a post-Chief Keef rap landscape where everyone is playing around with their flows, Kirb isn’t pushing anything forward, but he’s original, and when you acquire a taste for his falsetto-tuned instrument of a voice, no other artist on Earth can scratch the itch.
Lil Wop – “Pint of Blood”
Foster: Street rappers acting menacing isn’t a phenomenon unique to Atlanta, but there’s a unique tradition of this decade’s East Georgia trap stars being especially bored and villainous. The magic of Lil Wop is taking the most diabolical sounds and themes of Atlanta’s over-stimulated and highly intoxicated club regulars and stretching them to their logical conclusion. Where Gucci Mane was pickling his liver in the back of the club and waving a gun in the parking lot, his progeny has embraced being a literal vampire. Wop’s croaking flow and penchant for trap beats isn’t quite as groundbreaking as it sounds at first glance, but there’s an undeniable aesthetic novelty to drinking a pint of blood in the Brick Factory.
Brown: Wop’s career, both in musical style and persona, exists in an alternate universe where he stands in the spot that Waka Flocka Flame occupied almost eight years ago now on his debut. The influence and mentorship of Gucci, breakthrough projects indebted to The Don Killuminati: The Seven Day Theory, Tupac Shakur’s seething posthumous release as his evil alter ego “Makaveli,” a penchant for the theatrical: It’s all there. What’s different is that Wop extracts the quirk of Flockaveli that inadvertently changed rap—that is, it was so rhythmically propulsive and minimal that the grittiness scanned as fun.
So, sonically, Wop short-circuits directly to 21 Savage and Valee’s blank menace, but with no indication of those two’s awareness, informed by years of post-Flocka Chicago and Florida rappers playing Jenga with their flows, of the percussive potential of the human voice. As a result, on “Pint Of Blood,” you instead get someone filling in the lyrical spaces those two artists leave empty, like with the titular “drink a pint of blood and then I go to sleep,” or his, uh, “collar filled with snakes.” Unlike Flockaveli, or even Savage Mode, no one will mistake this for party rap. But, in the same way horror movies turn into an absurd spectacle once the camera fully reveals the monster, it is kind of fun.
Foster: Yeah, where early Flocka was a self-aware amplification of late aughts Atlanta trap’s ostentatiousness and danceability, Lil Wop right now is a self-aware amplification of trap villainy into trap vampirism. He definitely won’t have the same influence as Flocka (there are maybe five rappers this decade who could claim to) but he discovered a similar trick and ran with it to a 1017 deal.