Lucas Foster was last seen in a velvet luchador mask on the River Walk.
2015 was the last year that history paused. Obama was making way for eight years of Hillary. The neoliberal project was nearly complete. The Trump candidacy and the nascent Alt-Right was a bizarre content niche, the DSA was associated with spinsters and academics, Kendrick, the greatest rapper alive, created an unimpeachable album that seemed to advance discourse about America’s tortured race relations.
I was hopeful for a future where discourse, empathy, and decency was prioritized. Where the country’s future was imagined and discussed by a diverse proletarian coalition- democratically and outside of the traditionally shadowy marriage of big money, elite institutions, and intelligence agencies. I remember discussing as much online with people I was acquainted with through Based Facebook pages, ironic meme pages, and obscure music forums. I remember being online, being exposed to personalities and characters and artists from far outside my bubble of San Diegan surfers and skaters and teaching each other so much.
Perhaps I was naive. Perhaps I was corny. Perhaps I was lame. Perhaps I was male, middle class, and white. Perhaps the future I saw was a mirage. But it was the last time I remember feeling genuine hope.
I was attending community college, making memes, surfing infrequently, living at my grandmother’s 2-bedroom duplex in a retirement community that was entirely furnished with mid-century Herman Miller furniture from my grandfather’s 1950s stint with the company, and doing an unfathomable amount of prescription drugs with my FAFSA grant. I would sometimes link with my friend, rapper Drippin So Pretty, who kept me aware of the straight up incredible music he was making, and his collabs with Peddler Money Gang, a San Antonio-based music collective that was expanding and advancing on the cloud rap sounds that had begun in earnest in the beginning of the decade. The crew was ahead of the curve, so much so that it kind of had to implode and give the artists independence to carve their own lane. It would be irresponsible to name all of the rappers and producers who moved on from PMG, but if you follow emerging artists you’ve heard them.
PMG’s leader was P2 The Goldmask, a 30-something San Antonio trapper who wore a gold mask everywhere and somehow understood rap’s history and future better than any record industry executive. He was captivating, he had underground legitimacy and was street-certified in a way that subverted expectations for a scene that was then comprised of tiny and disorganized cells of internet weirdos. His Bones collab, a collab EP with Chris Travis, and a now deleted song flipping a classic MF Doom beat with a music video shot in Dubai were all intoxicating.
Yet as I was through the endless amounts of content he was producing, the most striking thing I found was his 2013 Codeine Island EP.
Working entirely with producer Ghostpizza, P2 made something that was outside of time, outside of place, leaps and bounds ahead of the thousands of bored and unimportant cloud rap tapes that aped Lil B without the Based God’s warped humor or futurist beat selection. I found it, somewhat randomly, on his long time girlfriend’s SoundCloud as a single track: 20 odd minutes of dense synth melodies paired with non sequiturs and jokes that flipped rap’s conventions on their head. Most songs eschew the hook-verse-hook format, attempting to do something that sits on a few bars, a few words, a single cadence for ages. In focusing a microscope on simple moments, it expands and fully realizes them.
The bridges become extended hallucinations, the simple hooks are endlessly repeated psychedelic chants.
As much as I want to sell this album to you with an easy pitch,the sound can’t be explained easily or as simply as “Clams Casino meets IDM.” or “cloud rap from a disintegrated future.” The keyboards and synthesizers on the first few tracks are sentimental in the same way the first few tracks of Die Lit are. The sound brings you to the penultimate moments of Shakespearean tragedy; to the cliche, melodramatic emotions that all great literature is able to impress on you. As insane melodies spin across and around you, P2 groans and moans and swaggers nonchalantly. He opens by saying “I’mma tell you niggas bout a nigga like me/ I got a bad bitch and I smoke a lot of weed” on top of a near ambient handful of synths, and as boring as that simple statement could be coming from a boring artist, P2 makes it an inspired mission statement.
On the second track he brings you to a mystical, warehouse-sized attic where “everybody smokin’ / everybody smokin/ everybody smokin/ everybodyyyy smooo- kiinnn” as an obscure anime VHS plays on a 72-inch projector. It’s one of those viscerally visual tracks that takes you there without spelling it out.
He finds his groove immediately, and never lets up. By the midpoint, he abandons traditional delivery entirely. On top of a descending piano melody and rolling snares, he drops into a stilted half time flow and waits half a bar to finish three or five word thoughts. “I be …. Low Key … in the … cut” and “I don’t fuck wit’ … rap … niggas … all they music suck.” “LKNTC” is a sort of nadir that allows him to catch his breath before telling it to you straight again on “Hold Me Back,” where Ghostpizza’s sounds once again find their pace and P2 starts giving you Instagram captionable bars that affirm his unrepentant cockiness and communicate a sort of Backwoods-clouded swag that only the coolest artists pull off.
What seems to truly bring together a tape recorded in the middle part of Obama’s presidency is the final track. To send off, Ghostpizzq flips an Obama audiobook excerpt where our coolest commander-in-chief explained his drug-fueled malaise as a high schooler and a recording of his 2006 claim that “I inhaled, that was the point” into a weed anthem.
It plays on the surreal nature of Obama’s time in the White House like nothing else. For a brief period, a man who represented the best of America’s aspirations and ideals was in charge. A guy who listened to Jay-Z and Kendrick and understood the culture of America’s lower middle class, the sensibilities of the Ivy League, and the multicultural global community that raised him. His policies and his actions weren’t perfect, his inability to prosecute the scummy Wall Street scammers was shameful, his imperialist foreign policy was dispiriting, but he would at least understand why the international left would levy these critiques. He appealed to normal, working class people and the “liberal elite” who populate our media, academic, and artistic institutions, and he probably came to us just a touch too soon.
Today he seems genuinely broken by the dystopian Trump presidency and disinterested in political activism in a way that is almost heartbreaking. That future we held as an inevitability in the middle part of this decade evaporated and will never make sense again. The present and future is a disorienting and dystopian exercise in reactionary extremism and often dispirited, sometimes hysterical, and seemingly always impotent responses from sane people.
It’s fitting that a tape that sounded so much like the world we thought was being created languished in obscurity for two years and was promptly deleted in 2016. Since it’s deletion I had been searching, in vain, for any sort of download or stream.
Finally, recently I talked to JteeSteezy, a San Antonio graphic designer who does tons of rad cover art for the underground and blessed the world by introducing Bladee to Cartier’GOD a few years ago. I had been following him on instagram for almost five years, since the brief period where Peddler Money Game was the best internet rap collective out and I was songs from Codeine Island to soundtrack Instagram surf videos that P2 would cosign. After talking about Steezy’s amazing cover art for Bladee and Cartier’s forthcoming HeartBreakers LP, I immediately asked him if he had a rip of Codiene Island. He informed me it was hidden deep on Da Phonk Blog YouTube channel and had been up there for over 18 months. It sounds as fresh as ever.
From my memory, this upload is missing 2 songs from the original 2013 version, one which shared a beat with p2’s 2017 collaboration with his longtime girlfriend, “100%” (now also deleted and only available on my 2017 best of SoundCloud mix for POW), and one which P2 joked about having a 20 inch dick in the same half serious tone he maintains through the entire album on top of a pulsing dancey beat.
Much of this mid 2010’s cloud rap era was defined by experimental tracks that were released only on SoundCloud and YouTube, often deleted soon after, and never uploaded to the now omniscient $10-a-month streaming platforms. Its a reality that makes gems like this so quickly forgotten, but Codeine Island is perhaps the finest release in it’s genre, it’s highs eclipsing Bones’ first 8 full lengths, Lil B’s 6Kiss and Yung Lean’s Unknown Death 2001. It represents the best of a fruitful, experimental time period that set the stage that half of today’s biggest stars would emerge from, and it is tinted with nostalgia for dreams of a future that never was.
To prevent Codeine Island from ever leaving the internet, I also uploaded a rip of its current incarnation to my SoundCloud. I’ll remove it if P2 asks.