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Mano Sundaresan got a lot of sticks, you can get stamped with ’em.
Metro Boomin – “10 Freaky Girls (with 21 Savage)” (prod. Metro Boomin)
21 Savage still getting pegged as one-dimensional is a tired artifact of Savage Mode criticism that was lazy back then too (try telling me “Ocean Drive” isn’t soul-melting). Issa Album and Without Warning brought his best nuances into focus – ghoulish humor, sardonic wit, murmurs from haunted street corners. It’s not a mistake to characterize 21 Savage’s delivery as deadpan, but it is to ignore his tics that make it so compelling.
No one gives him a better palette than Metro Boomin, who revels in similar dichotomies. On “10 Freaky Girls,” he teases you with a syrupy soul sample before baptizing it in the River Styx and stealing some horns from Olympus while he’s at it. His twisted concoction brings out some of 21 Savage’s best absurdism ever. Savage fires off, “In Bikini Bottom, I’m with Sandy” which (1) is a bar that he definitely thought through – he can hang in her tree dome without drowning – and (2) somehow still makes me feel inferior to him. Harriet Tubman gets a shoutout too, because why the hell not? This is Metro Boomin and 21 Savage at their most self-aware, their facades crumbling to reveal sneers and twilight fun.
Kadeem – “been here before” (prod. DUMROACHES)
You can tell when someone is challenging themselves as a rapper. You can also tell when they’re enjoying this challenge. Kadeem is of the latter, rarer breed, a Boston rapper who’s only plunged deeper into difficult-to-rap-over lo-fi with each release. Each of his songs is an exercise in technique. On last summer’s EP The Game Is The Game, he had room to snap in and out of flows and rhyme schemes over producer Slumlord’s minimalist loops. Here, he’s more locomotive, finding pockets between the whirring synths and vocal snippets of DUMROACHES’ drunken instrumental. If you can casually reference the hook to “One Call Away” by Chingy on a beat like this, you’re a great rapper in my book.
JPEGMAFIA – “PUFF DADDY” (prod. Kenny Beats)
It wouldn’t be unreasonable for your top-10 rap songs of 2018 to include 10 songs produced by Kenny Beats. He’s been that good. He’s also been working with everyone. He’s slowly worked his way through this year’s circuit of buzzing and established rappers, from Key! and NBA YoungBoy to, now, JPEGMAFIA. He’s constantly answering that “You have $10 to make a rap album, which rapper and producer do you select?” Twitter question, giving fans a taste of what a Kenny Beats-03 Greedo song sounds like, or even what Zack Fox sounds like rapping.
Kenny Beats-JPEGMAFIA sounds like rusty, aging automata staging a labor strike at the cavernous factory they work at and were also created in. Kenny leans into the dystopia for this one, using screeching synths and industrial bass. Meanwhile, Peggy does Peggy things like lie about his age and brag that he’s “strapped like Duke Nukem.”
PNTHN – “FI-LO”
PNTHN will have their moment; it’s just a question of when. The massive success of BROCKHAMPTON suggests renewed receptivity to rap groups as a trend and concept. PNTHN is built for a similar ceiling. The San Marcos, TX, group is loaded with talent (10 members, spanning from rappers to designers) and already filling out their sound: widescreen posse cuts painted in broad brush strokes with post-trill sonics. They don’t have a star yet, but they’re also not boring; it’s easy to find favorites. Right now, as a unit, they’re undeniable, filling the darkly comedic, nihilistic void left by Divine Council with passages like:
“Stank pussy on a Sunday
Fuck that bitch on a Monday
Kick her out on a Tuesday
Anime on a Wednesday
Same thing on Thursday
Eat her out at Friday’s
She ride dick on Saturday” (Pink Ranger, “HENNY DREAMS”)
Every posse cut is a few inches underwater, too; producers ROMBY and POR VIDA immerse the seven voices in swampy pads, soaking up every corner of headspace. It’s apparent on “FI-LO,” a standout off their latest EP RICO that just got a DIY video treatment. The beat, all synth puddles and bleeding drums, exudes young anxiety. Buildups of tension in lines like “Bitch stop recording, got the opps all on me” come with necessary release, usually in the form of mid-aughts Nickelodeon allusions: “Doug Dimmadome with the rock.”
Jay Jullio & Drego – “Not My Slime” (prod. Reg)
I don’t know how Reg pulled off a “Me and My Girlfriend” flip in 2018 but he did. Jay Jullio doing the off-beat Detroit flow over that burned-into-memory guitar sample is strangely mesmerizing. Drego showcases some versatility too with his sung chorus that interestingly bends into Auto-Tune Lil Wayne at times. Yet another elite song from this exciting scene. Someone from Detroit is going supernova next year.