The Rap Up: Week Of July 20, 2018

The Rap Up returns with words on Chief Keef, Rob Vicious, and more.
By    July 20, 2018

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Mano Sundaresan doesn’t miss officers. 

Lil TJay“Brothers (Prod. JDONTHATRACK) “

I’m always baffled by how effortlessly hook-writing seems to come for some rappers. Lil TJay is one of them—the Bronx rapper only started releasing music last September but already has some of the best hooks of the year (see: “Resume” and “Goat”). “Brothers” is as good an entry point as any to his eight-song catalog.

The best hooks latch onto your consciousness. They’re catchy and accessible but also carry emotional weight. Here, Lil TJay strikes that balance. Melodically, his reference point is A Boogie wit da Hoodie, but lyrically, he’s tapping into that spellbinding numbness that Greedo, Future, and Uzi reach for. On previous songs, Lil TJay flexes; here, he paints paranoia. He’s unmoved by death, worried about shooters, reflecting on lost time behind bars. Hearing a 17-year-old sing “Bodies drop all the time/ I don’t feel nothing” hurts. This sort of pain music is what sets TJay apart from New York’s slew of A Boogie impersonators.

 Nef the Pharaoh & 03 GreedoPorter 2 Grape

The first 03 Greedo project released during his 20-year sentence is this inter-regional EP with Bay Area rapper Nef The Pharaoh. I might get some online backlash for this but I haven’t heard a pairing so potent since Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. This is a much shorter, West Coast analog to Tha Tour. Nef is the Quan to Greedo’s Thug; Nef’s voice is grounded and synthetic like Quan’s, while Greedo’s bolts off in weird, jagged directions like Thug’s. They trade off on hook duties; never does this project feel like “Nef featuring Greedo” or “Greedo featuring Nef.” If it were longer, it’d be as cinematic as Tha Tour; its 17-minute runtime renders it more of a trailer, but everyone knows that trailers are the best part of the moviegoing experience.

The project meanders across regional styles. “Choosy” is the closest thing to a hyphy song, with staccato keys and singer Chris O’Bannon using that Vallejo skitter on the chorus. “Feeling You,” which boasts an all-time Greedo hook, leans into lush G-funk. Oakland’s ALLBLACK checks in for two cameos. Nef even takes it to Atlanta, tributing Future on the opening track “Pluto.”

The centerpiece is the glorious “Blow-Up Bed.” Nef and Greedo detail their ascents through their transition from airbeds to airplanes. Of all possible distillations of The Struggle, the airbed might be the least apparent, but most ubiquitous. This is the kind of snapshot detail that can stand in for an entire lived experience. It’s an image that everyone’s encountered at some point in their lives. Airbeds feel like sweat and strange sores and exasperation. They smell like body odor and bong water. They always look a little sickly. I’ve spent too much time with airbeds.

 Rob Vicious“Bands (Feat. Ohgeesy, Fenix Flexin, & Master Kato) (Prod. AceTheFace)”

To Atlantic, Shoreline Mafia represent the perfect storm of palatable, cosmopolitan L.A. rap. Their sound is distinctly L.A., but (1) they’re a rap group, and (2) they appeal to SoundCloud and, more generally, internet rap aesthetics. This is why they’re able to break the regional barrier holding back L.A. rap and sell out shows in New York. Clearly, the A&Rs at Atlantic understood this potential for a new lane when signing them.

Their first project with Atlantic comes in the form of Shoreline member Rob Vicious’s debut album, Traplantic. It’s a solid effort. Rob Vicious is a glue guy in the group, but on his own, he’s compelling enough, and Atlantic clearly gave him all the beats in the world to choose from. It mostly works. “C Notes” slinks and stutters; Honorable C.N.O.T.E. opts for a menacing two-bar piano phrase. “Dirty” has a drill beat with what sounds like actual drills in the beat and is begging for a Valee remix.

The obvious highlight is Shoreline Mafia cut “Bands,” on which all four members manage to fit verses into a 3 minute song (take notes, Migos). This is a Shoreline Mafia song through-and-through—from Ohgeesy’s lengthy chorus designed for spiritual chants at sold-out shows, to AceTheFace’s lurking, nocturnal beat, to the rappers’ distant, nervous-sounding intonation popularized by Drakeo the Ruler. Like most Shoreline songs thus far, Ohgeesy steals the show, knocking out couplets like “This ain’t a Milly Rock, this a money dance/ And my dick ain’t hard, that’s a thirty in my pants.” He’s the obvious star, but like the vast majority of rap groups, Shoreline Mafia sound best together.

 Chief Keef“Letter (Prod. K.E. on the Track)”

I think Chief Keef is one of those artists who everyone seems to love now but whose apparent popularity isn’t reflected proportionately in discussion of his new music. To most, his latest album Mansion Musick is just another Chief Keef album, this time with an iconic Carti feature: (“Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh / Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh / Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh / Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh / Uh-uh Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh / Uh-uh / Uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh-uh” – Playboi Carti, 2018).

#SosaHive knows, however, that Mansion Musick was announced way back in 2014, and that there are leaked bits and pieces of an OG Mansion Musick floating around on YouTube, some of which made the final cut. Some fans think that OG Mansion Musick would’ve been Keef’s best album had he released it, and there are downloads available of the album recreated as much as possible using leaks and released music.

This iteration of the album is scattered and strange, going from Rap Caviar trap (“TV On,” “Sky Say”) to pop experiments like “Belieber” that sound like holdovers from Nobody or Nobody 2. Chief Keef is the type of vocalist whose raps are entertaining but are (intentionally?) ambiguous with respect to emotion. I can’t decide whether this is his greatest strength or weakness.

You hear a song like “Letter,” the closer on Mansion Musick, and it’s instantly captivating, but in a way that’s more shocking than substantive. Keef raps over a dinky piano line like he’s trying to body it, using that gruff tone and sing-songy, slightly off-beat cadence he’s perfected over the years for his slower rap songs. He starts strong with that opening, “Never tell me what the fuck I can’t be,” but the song quickly loses focus. The track could’ve been better, but I keep coming back to it. It’s compelling in the way “I Love You” by Lil B is—sincere and, dare I say, cute, but also, just kind of weird. It’d be perfect for a Chief Keef Tiny Desk Concert.

 Playboi Carti“Cancun (moistbread Remix)”

The Playboi Carti snippet that most recently made the rounds on Twitter featured the unreleased song “Cancun,” as well as Carti proclaiming that his “stummy hurt” (in case you’re wondering, “carti saying ‘my stummy hurt’ for three minutes straight” is sitting at a comfortable 117K plays on SoundCloud after one week). NOLANBEROLLIN’s producer moistbread does a lot with a little in this remix of “Cancun.” He somehow makes the parking garage snippet sound even more underwater; Carti sounds like he’s drowning and you’re just making out bits of what he’s saying whenever he comes up for breath. The vocals simultaneously sound central and peripheral; if they weren’t there, you’d notice, but the backbone of this song is moistbread’s video game synth leads. If you’re craving more sounds like these, NOLANBEROLLIN dropped a moistbread-produced album a couple weeks ago that’s worth a listen.

 Bossman JD“Intro Fox World (prod. Rtonthetrack)”

In terms of numbers, Bossman JD is probably a tier or two below the GlokkNines and YNW Mellys of this emerging Florida rap class. It’s a difficult scene to separate oneself in because of the all-encompassing influence from Kodak Black. But as Sun-Ui Yum pointed out, (1) these rappers are only Kodak clones because you’re lazy and not paying attention to their music, and (2) numbers/fans don’t lie—they clearly hear something different in GloKKnine and Bossman and Melly, and if they didn’t, then these artists wouldn’t be successful. Besides, if the reason you’re boycotting this music is that they’re all Kodak imitators, you’re missing out on a goldmine of hits.

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