Mano Sundaresan knew the Kool-Aid smelled funny.
Lil Dicky – “Earth”
Lil Dicky was always going to weasel his way into superstardom. He’s a white rapper carrying the torch of comedy acts like The Lonely Island while sprinkling in the occasional radio freestyle. His music is ear candy for frat kids craving Relatable Content. The same day he put out his viral hit “Ex-Boyfriend” in 2013, he uploaded a post called “Mission” to his blog in which he explained away his joke raps-through-condescension as his way of feeling alienated: “Unless you’re an extremely stupid person that began life as a poor, violent man, only to see your fortunes turn once you started rapping, you won’t be able to relate to 99 percent of today’s rap music.” He scored a top-10 hit last year with “Freaky Friday,” a song that features Chris Brown and is about switching bodies with Chris Brown. He signed with Scooter Braun (who manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande) and shoots hoops with Kanye.
I just didn’t expect “Earth.” It’s Lil Dicky trying to save the planet one middle-school joke at a time. To call it a step back would be a narrow criticism – all the proceeds from “Earth” are going to environmental organizations — but the music is soulless enough to make you forget about his intentions.
The video opens with the wildfires that ravaged California late last year, but within seconds it’s already turned into Lil Dicky beefing with a group of adolescent skaters and telling one of them to “suck his butt.” One of the kids finds a book in a trash can and opens it, only to be transported to a plasticky CGI world full of drab, anthropomorphized versions of everything from monkey anuses to the HPV virus. Over the only Benny Blanco instrumental that Benny Blanco seems capable of making, a who’s-who of A-listers and not-A-listers drop in for lines, playing the roles of different animals in this store-brand Madagascar. It’s “We Are The World” shot through the algorithm that churns out every Chainsmokers song, bubblegum pop that lost its flavor sometime between when “Gangnam Style” dropped and when Joel Embiid played his first NBA game.
The thing is, “Earth” could be a Disney song if it weren’t so giddily irreverent. Take out the vulgarities and it’s suddenly cute and playful and has some semblance of an identity. The “I’m Cool And You Should Learn About X” schtick is tried and true but doesn’t require lines about cow tits. What we have here is a tasteless, overwrought PSA too explicit to soundtrack America’s Got Talent montages and too endearing to satisfy Dicky’s fans expecting his usual dick-swinging.
Valee – “You & Me Both”
Today, I, like many others, let down my guard and watched Kanye West’s Sunday Service performance at Coachella. It was a celebrity Jonestown atop a mound with a fresh sheet of sod. Streamers could only see the green hill through a circular lens, the cameraman constantly darting through the flock of performers. If Birkenstocks weren’t Jesus enough for you, they had “church clothes” for sale that’d run you up even more – pastel sweatshirts and t-shirts and socks with phrases like “holy spirit” and “Jesus walks” in bubbly Powerpoint text. Kanye mostly let the band and choir do the heavy lifting, checking in for hoarse renditions of “All Falls Down” and “Jesus Walks” later in the set. There were great moments — Chance rose on “Ultralight Beam,” DMX delivered a tear-jerking prayer — but the whole time I couldn’t fight the feeling that Kanye was just treading over his mistakes by going into megachurch mode.
It seems like everyone on G.O.O.D. Music tries the Kanye approach at some point, investing a lot of money into a big-budget project with no title in the artwork and hopes of a high Metacritic score, but Valee is still doing him. He doesn’t need much to make a hit: a CHASETHEMONEY beat (or two, like on this song), some weed, a few hours to write and record, then it’s back to the home improvement. “You & Me Both” has been teased for a while and it does not disappoint. Valee’s use of negative space is one of the most enthralling things in rap right now.
I saw Valee headline a show in New York last summer. While we were waiting in line at the door he left the venue by himself to pick up a bottle of water at the deli across the street. No security, no assistants doing it for him. This guy seems to lead a totally average life which makes him one of the biggest, best anomalies within Kanye’s orbit and I hope he never changes.
Young Nudy – Faded in the Booth
Young Nudy deserves a break from everything after what happened to him earlier this year. On February 3, Nudy was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and violation of the Georgia Gang Act. He was in a vehicle with his cousin 21 Savage and two other men when they were pulled over by the police in a targeted operation. This would also lead to 21 Savage’s arrest by ICE for being unlawfully present in the U.S.
They’ve both since been released on bond, and Nudy hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. While gearing up to drop his collab album Sli’merre with Pi’erre Bourne, he quietly uploaded a new mixtape to SoundCloud last Friday called Faded in the Booth. I’m reaching the point with Young Nudy where I know what to expect, and I’m almost always satisfied with the product. His beat selection has evolved over the years — “MarcB” off this one is amazing, I never knew how much I needed Nudy over strings — but his rapping has always been distinctly Atlantan, pulling from Gucci Mane, Future, and Young Thug. He’s barring out a lot on Faded in the Booth, more so than he did on his last project Slimeball 3. Try “Andy G,” “Homies,” and “Shootin Star.”
Band Gang Masoe – Zai Chari
BandGang Masoe hails from Detroit, a scene Harley and I shouldn’t have to introduce anymore given how much of the Rap-Up has been consumed by Detroit. I swear, we aren’t receiving threats from Sada Baby or something. This just happens every week. The scene is that good. Masoe’s new mixtape Zai Chari immediately sounds different from the city’s traditional funk. It opens with “Lots Of It,” an opulent banger revolving around electric piano and a sax sample that would fit snugly on a Rick Ross or Meek Mill project.
Masoe eschews the stammering flow used by his BandGang affiliates, hitting the beat head-on. The big Detroit rappers are really talented but often stick to the same shit-talking formula. Masoe has plenty of that, but he’s versatile. “Mo Hands” is a raucous song about Masoe wishing he literally had more hands to throw. Masoe finds multiple pockets on “Doss” that aren’t typical for this scene. The highlight is “Murder Scene,” a brooding slow-burner where he rap-sings like Boosie and fires off threats like a chopper.
SOB X RBE & Hit-Boy – “Chosen 1”
For some reason, people think Hit-Boy tried rapping and then fell off the face of the earth but that’s completely false. He’s been making hits all decade. “N***as in Paris” and “Trophies” are the ones he’s known for, but over the years he’s also produced songs for Beyoncé, Eminem, Travis Scott, Ty Dolla $ign, and Playboi Carti, among others. Most recently, he had a hand in “Sicko Mode.” His new collab album with SOB x RBE caught me off guard, but it delivers.
I’ve always liked Hit-Boy’s really bizarre stuff. The flute in “Other Shit” off the self-titled Carti tape is still one of the most mesmerizing things on there. “Chosen 1” is another one of his weird ass bangers. The bass and drums are in places you wouldn’t expect. I have no idea how Slimmy B and Yhung T.O. ride the beat but it all fits together like an intricate jigsaw puzzle.