The Rap Up: Week of March 2, 2018

The Rap Up returns with words on Valee, Sonny Digital, and more.
By    March 2, 2018

Lucas Foster has seen the future.


lil paycheck“Bobain”


Most of the time when I hear a rapper describe themselves as influential or ‘the future’ I roll my eyes. When Lil Paycheck told me he thought him and PBC were pushing the sound of hip-hop forward I kind of had to agree. “Bobain” is an incredible little piece of songwriting that eschews verses, opting instead for a series of hooks, pre hooks, and bridges. The shiny melodies of basedtj and sweet autotune of check would be enough to entice on their own, but this track is actually, genuinely special. You’ll hear a lot more of paycheck and Pretty Boi Clique moving forward.


 Gunna“Lies About You (Feat. Lil Durk)”


Within a month of first hearing Young Thug sometime in the earliest days of 2014 (I was very proud of myself for having heard of him before the Fader story where he described rats the size of house cats in his housing projects and Gucci described him as the most diverse rapper in Atlanta), I was a Young Thug cover band with an audience of one. For days, perhaps weeks, I was unable to go an hour without belting out the chorus of “Picacho,” the first verse of “Bricks,” or the most ridiculous turns of phrase in “Danny Glover.” It wasn’t so much an impulse or something I was interested in—I’ve never had illusions about my flat vocal range and uninspiring cadence—it was something I had to do. Singing like Young Thug is flat out addicting. For me it was harder to quit singing “Tha Tour Pt. 1” at work than to quit smoking (I’m on day ten, I don’t think I lasted three that fall at that restaurant).

This is why I don’t ever get mad at Gunna for sounding so similar to our Lord and Savior Young “Sex” Thug. He’s not biting, he’s not claiming to be original, he is an addict in the midst of a progressive illness. Thankfully, due to the miracle workers at St. Weezy’s Thugology unit, Gunna’s stage three case of Thuggercarcoma disease isn’t life threatening. His prognosis is a long and healthy career of pumping out melodic flows over beats that wouldn’t sound out of place on Barter 6 or SS3.

In rock he’d probably just be classified as a member of the same subgenre as Thug. There are hundreds of post-punk bands that sound as similar to Joy Division as Gunna does to Thug, so why is there a prevailing sentiment about Gunna being a “guilty pleasure” in some corners of the internet? This song is archetypal Gunna with an enjoyable, workmanlike Durk feature. It’s danceable and musically ambitious in equal measure—no matter the genius of his ever looming comparison.


 Sonny Digital“I Got (Feat. Lil Xan and Steve Cannon)”


This is a Sonny Digital song that could have been average but has become yet another victim of the industry’s most baffling choice for coronation this decade. Sonny Digital’s production has not evolved with changing trends, but it’s competent, as is Steve Cannon’s rapping.

On the third verse, the most inexplicably popular and aesthetically offensive pop rapper of the decade, Lil Xan, has ruined yet another half decent song. His closing verse is an indecipherable 45 seconds of what sounds like the rhyming of “xan” with “xan” and “ooo” with “ooo” in a strange and nonsensical sort of Cargo Cult recreation of 2014 Atlanta trap rap. To be fair, there’s not much more you can do on Sonny Digital beats, but the kid is barely on beat and his lyrics are so abysmal as to be a joke. It’s okay to use simple lyrics in rap, it’s not okay to glorify popping xans after claiming you were an “anti-xan movement.” It’s especially not okay to have terrible lyrics if your delivery, flow, and rap voice are all less than mediocre.

A rapper who’s entire aesthetic is being a high school xan addict should at least be a decent songwriter, singer, or rapper. Lil Xan is none of these things. He’s a mumbling clown, a walking meme, an entirely unoriginal artist, and a really, really bad rapper. Rap is in a good place right now, but if our gatekeepers are weak enough to ever let this happen, I fear for our future. Cole Bennet, use your star making powers more wisely next time, unless they are paying you to promote this dumbass, then keep doing you, king.


 Valee“Miami (Remix Feat. Pusha T)”


A Valee and Pusha T collaboration is so aesthetically enticing as an idea that it’s impossible for any street rap fan to ignore. This Vallee B-side is a natural fit for a Pusha remix. The creeping melody and rolling snares are definitely sounds both rappers are comfortable with. When Pusha comes in, though, he isn’t Pusha T. We want Pusha T to play Pusha T in the same way we want Steve Buscemi to play Steve Buscemi. He’s a character actor of the highest caliber, and here, his flow isn’t exactly unfamiliar, but it’s 10 years younger than how he is normally typecast. Ideally the next time he collaborates with his signee, he does the formalist coke raps we fell in love with him for.


 Some X Y“Freak”


Okay, I don’t know if this counts as rap, but at this point what even is the border of rap? It’s a question some critics will hash out eventually, but for now, I’m putting this in the Rap Up because it’s a really, really cool track that kicks off a really solid EP filled with rock guitar samples, R&B bridges, and rap refrains. There’s a lot of “experimental” stuff on SoundCloud in this vein and most is absolutely terrible, but this is a pretty great 2018 update on mid-aughts N.E.R.D. I don’t know who the heck these guys are, but I’m hoping to hear more from them in the future.