The Rap-Up: Week of April 20, 2020

Spark one up for the most notable rap singles of the week, as selected by Mano Sundaresan.
By    April 20, 2020

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Playboi Carti – “@ MEH”

There are things to love and hate about the response to this song. On the one hand, what a blessing it is that Carti discourse has finally evolved past emoji-asterisk permutations and post-ironic guilty pleasure rhetoric to something much more critical and high-stakes. All it took was an internet rap classic, a two-year hiatus, and a squabble with the biggest rapper alive. On the other hand, “@ MEH” is a Playboi Carti song, not a Frankfurt School manifesto. His goal is and always has been to concoct the perfect dopamine hit of a rap song, replacing old sounds with new ones when they begin to lose their flavor. 

This time around, that means enlisting Jetsonmade, the most important producer not named Pi’erre Bourne of the last two years, who delivers a fritzy, Fun-Dip-sour webwork of pings and sizzles. Carti works in his characteristic vocal scribbles and right-of-center octaves to call out all the people talking shit. That’s old heads who’ve painted rap in eschatalogical terms for years, but it’s also rappers, leakers, and fans of the Old Carti who are already saying this song isn’t hitting. For the latter camp in particular, my only advice is to treat “@ MEH” and the upcoming album as you would any Carti music: crank it to an ungodly volume and dance to it on repeat for hours.

Babyface Ray – “Fake Luv”

While Carti fans await their event release, Detroit rap fans already got theirs: new Babyface Ray. He’s a legend in his city, and for good reason. Listening to Babyface Ray elicits the same feeling I get from hearing AZ, Snoop Dogg or Guru: an immaculate, almost heroic coolness, like wearing a tuxedo to a heist. And “Fake Luv,” the breezy opener to his new EP For You, is a high-speed chase. Soundtracked by Topside’s police flick instrumental, Ray runs laps through the mall and throughout the city, chased by rap politickers, needy women, and the envious streets. He’s a vivid, yet economical writer with a voice like diamonds; listen to how he calmly ethers an anonymous lover in a couplet: “She put the soul in my hands / I just asked to fuck. She sees the future in my eyes / I’m just having fun.” The rest of America may not be hip yet, but Ray knows he’s the shit; he could get a million clicks if he breathes on it.

LUCKI – “Faith”

The run LUCKI has been on for a year and change now is the sort of rarefied excellence that most rappers strive for. Freewave 3 and Days B4 III made the POW Best Albums of 2019 (you can read some guy babble about them here) and are stone-cold masterpieces, propelled by gut-wrenching writing and an all-star lineup of underground producers. The mark of eternal music is its kaleidoscopic quality, revealing new things on each listen, and what LUCKI did on those two projects that I’ve only recently begun to appreciate was advance his flow, breaking out of his typical pattering to undulate, spiral out of the ends of phrases, and toy with melody. His voice, too, was fuller, more powerful than ever before, yet still maintained the aura of a deflated life raft, a totally unique combination that allowed LUCKI to plumb the depths of his soul in darker, more deranged ways.

On “Faith,” LUCKI continues to raise his own bar as a rapper. Here’s a thought experiment. You’re reading POW, you’ve freestyled before. Imagine this Yung Icey beat without LUCKI on it. Now imagine your favorite rapper on it. Now relisten to the track and pay attention to what LUCKI’s doing. By all conventions, he shouldn’t be rapping the way he does here. He starts way ahead of the beat, then sneaks into a winding, precarious flow that somehow lands in a pocket and stays there. And that’s ignoring song structure. An unwieldy 11-bar verse, then…a chorus? Is there a chorus? It’s really more like a jagged line in one of John Cage’s compositions, a motif that’s repeated freely rather than something born from traditional song logic. Genius wants to call it one big verse, but that’s reductive of LUCKI’s intricate work here.

Bishop Nehru & MF DOOM – “MEATHEAD”

Either DOOM just really wants to see Bishop Nehru succeed or Nehru has the Madvillainy sequel and is blackmailing him for beats and verses. DOOM is actually solid on this track (although was that an Ice Bucket Challenge reference? How old is this verse?) but then Nehru comes in with his trademark sluggish monotone, saying that he excels like Microsoft and he’s “the coldest vibe alive.” He doesn’t sound as much like a talent show struggle rapper as he used to, but over the nearly two-minute verse, almost nothing he says is memorable. The most underwhelming partnership in all of rap miraculously continues.

capoxxo featuring oaf1 & dreamcache – “perfect”

Nothing is off-limits in rap music. When in the right hands, any ephemeral artifact of pop culture can be mined and turned into a hard ass song. That’s why the genre moves in cycles and defines the cycles of culture at large.

Here, the ancient fad in question is chintzy Roller Kingdom techno, which producer DXSH has unearthed and repurposed for a song that smashes together the worlds of Drain Gang and DDR, Tumblr and MySpace. The video looks like it was shot on a Nokia flip phone and edited in Windows Movie Maker. Underground curator and artist Astari put “perfect” by capoxxo on my radar, and I can’t lie, I initially thought it was really dumb, an obvious attempt at wielding rightfully forgotten sonic textures for shock value. But for some reason, the song keeps bringing me back. It’s as synthetic and syrupy as a tongue-staining lollipop. The beat is not even that different from its 12-year-old source material. It’s the wispy, Bladee-lite crooning on top of it that blasts it into the future and lends it a trance-inducing quality.

Its whole aesthetic still feels excessively indebted to the cringy era it was born from, rendering it more a strange curiosity than a legitimately great song, but that’s why this column exists.


Compared to his pop-leaning peers on SoundCloud who’ve become trend-hoppers or waded into glitchier waters, BIGBABYGUCCI has stuck to the script, evolving into a better version of himself with each release. A pop rap formalist, he’s always prioritized fine-tuning over radical change — picking catchier beats, writing sharper hooks, singing stickier melodies. That culminated in last summer’s Send Help, and particularly the track “Drop Top Lexus,” a low-key earworm that rarely left my rotation for the rest of 2019. 

On his latest tape Teen Spirit, he continues this process of refinement, finding subtle ways to accentuate the layers and make his case as one of the best pop rappers out. “Your Way” opens with a jazzy keyboard waltz that producer Fish then flips into a glossy pop banger. The perfect backdrop for BIGBABYGUCCI to fire off some of his slinkiest melodies.

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