MIKE– Black Soap
Rap can be grating. Not on some all rap sounds the same lame shit. It’s just a lot of it is pessimistic. I don’t blame the rappers; it works best for storytelling and it’s what many listeners want. And no, it’s not that I want some carefree bullshit. That’s how we ended up with Lil Dicky. But there’s a middle ground. Rap that acknowledges the pitfalls and darkness, but finds rappers persevering through optimism. It’s uplifting and personally what I need in the midst of a time in my life where the uncertainty of what my future looks like fucks with me everyday. This is what makes MIKE’s Black Soap so special. It’s an album that sees the light at the end of the tunnel and explains how 19-year old MIKE discovered himself even though shit wasn’t always clear.
Black Soap is a family affair. It opens with a prayer from his mother. It features writing and production from Darryl Johnson, Standing On the Corner contribute instrumentation, and some additional raps come courtesy of Adé Sayyed & Cheikhuana Bamba Fall. Much of MIKE’s bright energy comes from this family surrounding him, most apparently on the album’s lead single, “Time Ain’t Enough”, which comes with a joyful video featuring the whole crew. Despite its gloomy lyrics (“There’s some thoughts I get at night that I just need to question”), a sense of hope booms from his deep and sometimes muffled voice.
Black Soap keeps up this feeling of progression. On “Like Mask,” MIKE’s uses a somber inflection and meditative piano keys as a backdrop to describe how society views him in relation to his size and color. The following track, “Ministry”, dives deeper into the darkness with funereal backing instrumentation. It’s a slightly off-putting two song stretch, but a necessary one that makes the subsequent vibrance more impactful.
The album’s climax,“God Save The Queen” comes at the point where the downbeat vibe finally transforms into the fleshed out optimism the project had been building to. It’s MIKE coming to terms with himself, dealing with the fears that weighed on him, and embracing his youth in one of the world’s cultural capitals. A song that resonates with me because it’s MIKE reaching points internally that every kid in New York wants to get to eventually. He somehow finds comfort and self-actualization in a place that can often make your dreams and aspirations feel both insignificant and out of reach. That’s some inspirational shit.
PNV Jay– “Level Up”
I wish I could write in emojis because if I could you would be reading about three lines of the swirl emoji. But since I can’t, This is PNV Jay. He’s the most fun rapper in Brooklyn, who also happens to be genuinely perplexed by his buzz. PNV Jay doesn’t have much music, but “Level Up” is his best song to date as he continues to move away from the drill sound into more commercially appealing rap.
The most logical path for the rappers who were born in Brooklyn’s drill scene is to follow that of G Herbo. He is one of the few original drill rappers who still maintains his countrywide relevance partially because he never completely changed his style and instead just shifted to production that was cleaner and songs made with a bit more structure. PNV Jay is doing just that and maybe a little too much so, as the beat does feel like it could have been tacked on at the end of Humble Beast Deluxe. But we’ll overlook that because the hook is catchy and the video features Jay bravely putting in the twirl work despite being cursed with the stiffness of Greg Oden.
I better hear this all summer or you New York DJs gotta be shipped off to Jersey or something.
ksl & Cl<3y– “Up”
My favorite rap shit at the moment is songs where you could pick any 10-15 second interval, show it to someone, and convince them it’s the hook. The master of this is Playboi Carti, but ksl & Cl<3y’s “Up” passes that test. The song itself is bouncy and the Stone Neighbor beat feels familiar but still enjoyable. New York having more of a presence in the SoundCloud world is something I’ve wanted for some time, so having something that fits as well as this does is cool.
Poor Desiigner. Everyone thinks this G.O.O.D Music stretch of weekly projects started with Pusha T’s Daytona. But really it was Desiigner’s L.O.D. Desiigner did everything he was supposed to: let Mike Dean executive produce it, make the album 7 songs, and manage to be lit in the middle of Wyoming while Kanye talks about murdering someone. He followed the strict orders instructed to him by Pusha T or whoever is running the G.O.O.D Music Full Metal Jacket-style artist development training camp and couldn’t even get Kanye to Tweet out his album.
I feel bad for Desiigner, overlooked by his own label, just showing up on social media every now and then for some dejected “Gltttts.” And he really didn’t do himself any favors with L.O.D.; as a long anticipated (by some) album, it isn’t very good. Although “Hood” does have a nice video with Desiigner bringing some crisp visuals to Brooklyn. I really just wanted to acknowledge Desiigner because he still has my attention, even if his own label is starting to throw him aside.