Mano Sundaresan knows exactly where the salad forks should be placed.
Gang Starr – “Family and Loyalty”
For some reason, when DJ Premier teased via social media last week that new Gang Starr was imminent, I was nervous. Maybe it was the eternal cynic in me who had been disappointed by similar Golden Age comebacks. Maybe I had grown weary of that era; the recent barrage of web documentaries and minseries about East Coast hip-hop had done nothing to help. Maybe I was struck by a general disillusionment with posthumous work, which, in the current rotting stage of capitalism, has consumed discourse around artist deaths.
These doubts slipped away when I heard Guru on this record. That marble-smooth voice that once seemed to have all the answers to life, that never needed gimmicks, that saw brain waves in constellations, delivering one more shard of wisdom. It’s truly surreal to hear a new Gang Starr song so pristine, so honest, so deeply true-to-form, like Guru never passed and they just kept putting in work after The Ownerz. It’s a reminder that no one can and will ever match the energy and attitude that Guru brought to Premier’s beats. The J. Cole verse is fine, if a little showy, and will hopefully introduce younger heads to the work of Gang Starr. The real joy is being able to once again hear the existential connection between two of hip-hop’s brightest minds.
Duwap Kaine – “Proper Etiquette”
At just 17, Duwap Kaine has already thrown out the rap rulebook. Ad libs and verses blend together in counterpoint. Every melodic phrase topples over the next like Dominoes. The beats are towering walls of synth pads and blown-out bass, rarely reducible to a single melody or idea. Kaine’s songs are, by all conventional standards, “busy,” but you keep replaying them and slowly even the subtlest parts of the whole begin to feel essential.
Like the way he mumbles “go…go…go…” in different pitches throughout this lurking single “Proper Etiquette.” A bizarre vocal take Kaine probably stumbled into that reveals itself as a stealthy earworm. Don’t let it distract you from some classic Kaine punches (“And I trap with a proper etiquette / He not real, man, his life be edited”) and his ever expanding melodic range.
GAWD – PILOT G (TR EPISODE 4)
We just covered GAWD a few months ago, but I’ve lived with his new tape PILOT G for too many broiling evening walks to not give it a nod. It’s the last in a string of four projects the Richmond, VA, producer put out in consecutive days last week and sounds like a 19-year-old rap nerd’s reimagining of everything he grew up listening to: Clipse, Odd Future, Divine Council, early Carti. Basically, all those hard ass songs with beautiful chords that are probably buried in a corner of your iTunes library next to TNGHT and Girl Talk. GAWD’s music makes the most sense in the swampy late summer of the DMV that creeps and creeps into late August, then September, then October. The beats here resonate distantly, almost wistfully, like there’s a dense smog muffling them, and are based around pretty seventh chords that’d make Tyler, the Creator swoon. GAWD’s rapping is perfectly effective, perhaps a little too on the-nose Carti at times, but generally engaging and carried by repetitive hooks and flows. PILOT G is best listened to front-to-back but if you’re looking for standouts, try “Landing Strip,” “2Fall or 2Fly” and “65K MPH.” Oh, and “Felicia 2019” for the important T-Pain callback.
Lil Mosey – “Stuck in a Dream”
Man I thought this guy was over. I thought that hairsplitting XXL freestyle had done him in. This is allegedly the “comeback” single, and it sounds like desperation. In an attempt to win back his followers who probably didn’t care that much about the freestyle, Lil Mosey plays it frustratingly safe and hops on a guitar beat with a phoned-in Gunna verse. Tasteless, unoriginal pop rap from a kid whose entire appeal I am still trying to figure out. I don’t know how many more “Sold Out Dates” ripoffs I’ll have to hear. (That song came out in April 2018, by the way.)
LNDN DRGS – “Sideshow” (feat. Conway)
This week’s column closes with a collaboration that was bound to happen. LNDN DRGS and Griselda Records, the West and East Coast bastions of soulful luxury rap, respectively, join forces on this single from LNDN DRGS’ upcoming compilation tape AFFILIATION. Jay Worthy and Conway check in for memorable verses, but the star of the show is the gorgeous “Blue Magic” sample, flipped by LNDN DRGS mastermind Sean House.