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Mano Sundaresan knows the drink menu at his local Japanese steakhouse backwards and forwards.
Lil Keed – “Proud Of Me (feat. Young Thug)”
Decades from now, as humanity loses its value to algorithms and rising seas spill over into coastal cities, Young Thug fans will huddle closely and tell their children about the Leak of 2015. Just weeks after Young Thug dropped Barter 6, over 100 unreleased songs by Rich Gang, its members, and affiliates were unceremoniously dumped into the digital nether and passed around in a massive zip file through Twitter DMs and KanyeToThe. 50 or so were by Young Thug. His team had never been the best at securing his music, but this was unprecedented, not only due to the sheer amount of leaked music, but also because the leak contained some of his best work to date. Many of the songs sound like they’re from the Barter 6 sessions: somber piano, sticky choruses,
Thug finding every pocket imaginable. The most intriguing tracks, however, are the ones where Thug is embracing a potential, still-unrealized future as a pop auteur. What makes these songs so exciting is that they never feel like a clean break from rap, but more like Thug testing the limits of the genre. There’s an early version of “Good Times” with Jamie xx where Thug opens by mentioning that he’s sipping Actavis. There are other songs where he’s hitting love struck R&B hooks over stadium-status chords (“Paradise”) and bending high notes that shouldn’t sound so angelic (“Love Me”). Thug dropping an album full of these songs after the rap showcase that was Barter 6 would’ve been one of the most daring left turns of the century.
This may have been a Young Thug that hip-hop in 2015 wasn’t ready for.
2019 is a different story. Young Thug’s stylistic offspring comprises rap’s current pantheon, a country rap song is the biggest song in the world, and snippet culture has become the norm through social media platforms like Triller and TikTok. It’s strangely poetic to see “Proud of Me,” a popular 2015 Thug leak, get an official release, only now it’s credited to his artist Lil Keed and Thug is just a feature. The beat still sounds like Purpose-era Justin Bieber and Thug still reaches into the heavens pleading that Gucci Mane be freed. It’s fantastic, but like most things in life, the OG version is better.
Offset Jim – “Stoopid (feat. Jay Anthony)”
Compared to the other rising stars from the Bay Area, Offset Jim is subdued. While rappers like ALLBLACK and SOB x RBE demand your attention through their energy, Jim prefers his deadpan snarl, firing off boasts and threats like poisonous darts. Utilizing this style means baring it all. You’re probably not going to miss anything, but you’ll still want to run it back.
“Stoopid” is the hardest song I’ve heard about love not existing in a while. Offset Jim is joined by rapper/producer Jay Ant, who matches Jim’s monotone with that Bay Area stammer that somehow always exudes confidence. Ant rapping about beating up his Yeezys while actually using one of his black 700s as an ashtray in the video is the platonic ideal of reality rap. Meanwhile, Offset Jim can’t let love get in the way of his financials: “Mr Krabs about my bag and my recipe (stingy!)”.
Curren$y x LNDN DRGS x Jay Worthy – “Payback”
A Curren$y/LNDN DRGS collab EP sounds too good to be true, a hazy studio session or two full of earthy, soul-bearing samples and two veteran rappers providing the opulent scene-setting and occasional wisdom. But it’s happening, and it’ll probably belong in every summer night playlist once it comes out. To hold us until the EP, they’ve put out a lead single about sake called “Sake” (first user comment on SoundCloud: “BEST SONG WITH NO BASS LINE 2019”) and more recently, this song about people being full of shit called “Payback.” Over a golden Stylistics flip from Sean House, Curren$y and Jay Worthy check in for confrontational verses that’ll make you delete your last Instagram flex and start saving money.
Maxo Kream – “Still”
Another collab that I wasn’t ready for. Maxo Kream has always thrived on barren, spacey production that he can come at from different directions, switching flows whenever he wants, so he unsurprisingly tears up this instrumental from the king of barren, spacey production, CHASETHEMONEY. Maxo is locomotive, rattling off everything he’s still doing, from toting Glocks and dodgin’ cops to making deals (this time, it’s $1.5 million with RCA). He’s one of the steadiest voices in rap, rarely wasting a breath.
Dee Watkins – “Bad Ass Jit”
I came across “Bad Ass Jit” by way of Harley, who came across it by way of the YouTube algorithm. That should be enough for me to admit that I don’t know much about Dee Watkins aside from that he’s from Florida and he’s best known for his remix of “Act Up” by City Girls. “Bad Ass Jit” is what caught my attention, but then I checked out the “Act Up” remix and heard him say, “You ain’t getting nothing from me ‘cause it’s tax season, hoe” and I immediately understood the appeal. Dee Watkins is a really engaging rapper. He has the confidence to pull off absurd bars and call himself a “city boy” but also tell stories about his steely, unforgiving come-up.